Drug Enforcement Investigators

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The statistics are shocking:According to a 2012 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly 24 million Americans aged 12 and older had used an illicit drug or abused a psychotherapeutic medication within the past month. This report also found that drug use is highest among Americans age 18 to 20, with an estimated 23.9 percent reporting the use of illicit drug use in the past month.

Other 2012 statistics reported included:

  • 18.9 million Americans used marijuana in the past month, up from 14.4 million in 2007.
  • 6.8 million Americans used prescription drugs in a non-medical (not prescribed or for a purpose other than described) manner in the past month
  • 1.1 million Americans used hallucinogens (includes LSD and ecstasy) in the past month.
  • 17.7 million Americans were dependent on alcohol.
  • 4.3 million Americans were dependent on or were abusing marijuana.
  • 2.1 million Americans were dependent on or were abusing prescription pain relievers.
  • Only about 1 percent (2.5 million) of Americans dependent on drugs or alcohol (23.1 million) received treatment at a specialty facility.

It comes as no surprise, then, that drug investigation jobs are commonplace among even smaller police and sheriff’s departments throughout the U.S., and the efforts of drug investigators and narcotics task forces are more imperative than ever.

How Narcotics Crime Investigations are Performed

Shutting down nuisance drug houses; dismantling complex drug trafficking organizations; and arresting street level dealers. This is the work of drug/narcotic investigative teams, which investigate all types of illegal drugs, from heroin and cocaine to methamphetamine, ecstasy, and illegal prescription drugs.

Drug investigations include street-level drug possession, sales, and trafficking; prescription drug crimes; the production of manufactured drugs; and the cultivation marijuana, just to name a few.

Drug investigation units within a police department or state public safety agency are designed to combat illegal narcotic distribution networks and prepare evidence for the successful prosecution of criminals involved in drug-related crimes. Drug investigators may also work through specialized drug squads or task forces, many of which are multi-jurisdictional and many of which are part of federal units, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and Explosives.

It is typical for narcotics investigation units to conduct both covert and overt operations. Covert operations consist of undercover work that is directed at drug traffickers, while overt operations consist of street-level work that addresses small- to mid-level drug traffickers, drug abusers, drug houses, and street corner drug dealing.

The major functions of a narcotics investigation unit include:

  • Conducting follow-up investigations of felony narcotics arrests made by the police department’s patrol unit
  • Conducting complex investigations of prescription drug fraud and forgeries
  • Investigating narcotics offenses through the development of confidential sources and through undercover investigations
  • Following up on tips received from a variety of sources, including patrol officers, community members, and confidential informants

Drug investigations may also be broken down into the type of illicit drugs or the level of drug operations. Their work may be focused on:

  • Organizations and individuals engaged in wholesale importation and narcotics distribution
  • Identifying, disrupting, and dismantling transportation networks that supply narcotics to local distribution markets
  • Heroin trafficking
  • Domestically grown marijuana and marijuana growers
  • Interdicting drug shipments via land, air and water

Narcotics Enforcement Investigators at Work

Drug investigators are law enforcement officers whose main duties are related to the investigation of criminal activities connected to the sale, use, and distribution of illegal drugs.

Narcotics investigators must possess a unique skillset, as they are required to initiate and obtain intelligence of suspected illegal drug dealers and users which, many times, involves covert operations and undercover drug stings. Their work involves understanding the drug chain, from the highest-level suppliers to street-level dealers, and developing and maintaining contacts, interviewing witnesses, and interviewing the victims of drug abuse.

This investigative work also includes obtaining search warrants or arrest warrants, and obtaining warrants from judges to utilize certain types of surveillance activities, such as electronic monitoring devices or wiretapping equipment.

Narcotics investigators maintain close partnerships with other law enforcement agencies, thereby improving the exchange of information and increasing the effectiveness of their investigations.

Many times, drug investigators develop and coordinate a number of community-based and school-based drug education programs, which are designed to create awareness of the dangers of drugs.

Training Programs and Requirements for Narcotics Investigators

Training for drug/narcotics investigators, including detectives working in task forces and multi-jurisdictional units, is designed to identify drug enforcement strategies and detail those strategies that do and do not work. Program objectives therefore often include:

  • Integrity and ethical issues faced by drug enforcement investigators
  • Drug recognition, including the history and development of drugs and the Controlled Substance Act
  • Search and seizure laws, including warrantless search and seizure
  • Writing search warrants, the seizure of evidnece, and post-seizure requirements
  • The management of informants
  • Undercover work, including maintaining an undercover identity and organizing operational plans
  • Physical surveillance activities
  • Preparing for trail and giving courtroom testimony

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