Officer Jason Ross talks with a commercial truck driver during an inspection. When inspecting a vehicle that is transporting food, officers look for food temperature, labeling and cross-contamination as well as general food safety. Ambient temperature and internal temperature are measured to make sure the food is not spoiled. Cross-contamination violations include putting boxes of meat on top of other food items such as produce. If a vehicle’s cargo doesn’t pass the inspection, the cargo may be destroyed or the vehicle and its cargo may be turned around.
A driver opens his trailer to show agricultural law enforcement officers his cargo. Commercial vehicles transporting cargo including, food, building materials and animals must go through the inspection station. Animals ranging from kangaroos to sharks to horses pass through.
A horse peeks out of the trailer during an inspection. Horses are common at the inspection stations during the winter months. The Budweiser Clydesdales passed through the station in November on their way to an event in Georgia.
Officer Jason Ross demonstrates how the Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System (VACIS) is used at the Northbound Agricultural Inspection Station on I-75 in White Springs, Fla. This system uses gamma rays to scan images of commercial vehicles that are stopped at the inspection station. Every 20th vehicle that comes through the station is scanned. Ross said that after years of practice, he can examine a photo and know what is likely in the truck, whether it’s the usual vegetable cargo or hidden paraphernalia such as drugs or even people. Bricks of marijuana have been found stored in artificial walls, in produce and in paper towels. The VACIS truck, along with physical inspections, help the officers maintain agriculture safety in Florida.
Ready for a chase at any time, agricultural law enforcement park vehicles at the Northbound Agricultural Inspection Station. There are 19 stations located across northern Florida. The stations are open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. The officers work two shifts, one from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and vice versa. Every 28 days, the officers switch shifts.
Officer Jason Ross reports back to the station as he chases a commercial vehicle transporting art that mistakenly bypassed the inspection station. Some drivers are unaware that stopping at the inspection stations is mandatory. If you’re transporting cargo of any kind or if your vehicle has a trailer, you should stop. This includes movers driving vans such as U-Hauls.
This isn’t an ordinary day job. The shifts are 12 hours. The office is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. And water cooler talk centers around encounters with swarms of honeybees, famous Clydesdales and Santa’s reindeer.
Whether they’re inspecting vehicles, checking paperwork or chasing lawbreakers, a day in the life of an agricultural law enforcement officer is usually more colorful than typical.
The Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement under the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is the state’s first line of agricultural defense. Commercial vehicles transporting food, livestock, building materials, plants and furniture are just some of the vehicles subject to inspection at any of the 19 northbound and southbound agricultural inspection stations located across north Florida.
Officer Jason Ross has been working with the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement since 2000. He started at Florida Gateway College, formerly Lake City Community College, studying library science but decided to switch to law enforcement. He said he likes the variety that the job offers.
Tasks ranging from traffic stops to food safety and livestock inspections take up a typical shift.
But it’s the people they stop and the cargo they inspect that makes the job so unique.
In the summer months, the heat can get to the drivers, which means far less clothing than some officers would prefer. Even in November, as temperatures in Florida typically cool off, a driver came through without a T-shirt.
“An 800-pound man in a speedo — that just ain’t cool,” said Officer Randall “Peanut” Roberts.
Along with typical livestock, such as pigs and horses, sharks, kangaroos and grizzly bears have also come through the station. Ross has a small collection of photos of some of these animals on his phone.
“This, I guess, is not what you would call a traditional law enforcement agency,” Ross said.