ALTONA -- Canada and the United States have taken another visible step to keeping the border open for trade and closed to crime -- and it's on Manitoba soil.
A permanent joint intelligence facility in Altona opened Friday with officers from both sides of the border in attendance.
"This is exactly what we're looking for... a facility that will be able to get people face to face and exchange information in real time," said Michael Skappak, a director of the Canada Border Services Agency's enforcement and intelligence division.
The face-to-face interaction was showcased at the event, with boisterous mingling of red, green and blue coats from both countries.
The integrated border enforcement team, or IBET, is one of 15 located along the Canada-U.S. border. Officers working at the permanent facility will focus on one thing: stopping people and organizations from using the border as a conduit of criminal activities.
"This continues to be a predominant threat encountered by our border communities," said Portage-Lisgar MP Candice Hoeppner.
Altona is one such community and its police officers have been the initial responders in some cases of border security.
"We have encountered situations of human smuggling in the area," said Perry Batchelor, Altona's chief of police. "IBET has assisted us on more than one occasion."
The specialized teams were developed in 1996. In 2001, the Red River IBET was created and includes officers from the RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency, U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Customs Service and Homeland Security.
Until now, the Red River IBET has shared most of its intelligence during frequent meetings on both sides of the border.
But the embedded officers in Altona will bring more than just well-connected border security officers; Batchelor believes the team will be an asset to the community in a variety of ways.
"They're also law-enforcement officers, so we work well together on other issues as well," said Batchelor.
Also part of the team is Timothy Purdon, the U.S. attorney of North Dakota, and his office.
"Eventually these cases, these investigations, lead to prosecution," said Purdon. He said his goal is to improve communication so that when the prosecution happens, "the lawyer in Fargo and the lawyer in Winnipeg aren't speaking to each other on the telephone to see what they should do for the first time."