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Narcotics Officer Career Guide

Narcotics officers, or agents, perform undercover investigations of drug activity in specified cities and counties. Drug abuse has become a tremendous problem affecting individuals regardless of age, sex, race, and social stature. As a result, the demand for law enforcement officers with training in narcotics has increased dramatically.

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Narcotics Officer Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

Narcotics agents use a variety of techniques and resources, including video surveillance, wiretapping, and K-9 units. They may work undercover to earn the trust of informants. Officers may work long hours in dangerous situations, may be required to handle firearms, and must be familiar with basic forms of self defense. Stress management and physical fitness are also important parts of the job.

How to Become a Narcotics Officer: Requirements and Qualifications

Many law enforcement agencies require a narcotics enforcement officer to have a two or a four year degree, preferably with a major in police science or criminology. In some states, certification is necessary to become a narcotics enforcement officer. An officer must pass a background check, a drug test, a polygraph test, a physical, and a psychological exam.

Narcotics Officer Job Training

Narcotics agents must go through mandatory training in the proper use of firearms, detection devices, and equipment, such as wiretap machines, used during investigations. Agents must also learn basic survival skills, how to find and to nurture relationships with confidential informants, and how to identify common street and other drugs. Some organizations offer specialized training for narcotics agents at the local, state, and federal levels. The DEA, for example, provides training classes such as the Narcotics Supervisor Leadership Program and the Drug Unit Commanders Academy.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Narcotics officers must have effective communication skills, must have the ability to talk with and to gain the trust of sources, and must have the physical and the psychological ability to cope with stress on a consistent basis. Officers must be prepared to put themselves in dangerous situations and to deal with people from all walks of life.

Examples of Possible Job Titles for this Career

  • Narcotics agent
  • Narcotics investigator
  • Narcotics officer

Career Opportunities and Employers

Narcotics officers may find employment with local, state, and federal law enforcement and government agencies. Those organizations that hire narcotics agents include the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Department of Public Safety, and the Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control. Some narcotics agents work with K-9 units.

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Narcotics Officer Salary and Outlook

Salary depends on the officer’s rank, division and place of employment, experience, and education. In addition to regular pay, police officers typically receive a benefit package, including medical, dental, and vision insurance. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median pay for police officers and detectives was $56,980 per year as of 2012.1 The BLS projects that employment growth for police and detectives will be 5% from 2012 to 2022.1

Frequently Asked Questions About This Career

Do narcotics officers need previous experience?
Agents generally start as an entry level police officer. Experience may lead to a promotion to narcotics agent.

What type of schedule does a narcotics officer work?
Narcotics officers generally work long and irregular hours and should be prepared to work when necessary, including nights, weekends, and holidays.

What does a background investigation entail?
The background investigation for prospective narcotics officers is extensive and includes probing into the applicant’s personal and professional history, including work experience, educational background, and references.

Additional Resources

Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs – A Resource for Narcotics Officers

International Association of Undercover Officers – A Safety Resource for Undercover Officers

National Narcotics Officers Association Coalition – NNOAC

Narcotic Officers Magazine – News for Narcotics Officers

PoliceOne.com – A Law Enforcement Resource

Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Related Programs

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1. Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm
2. The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/07/nyregion/undercover-officers-under-strain-with-no-clear-way-off-the-beat.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Page Edited by Charles Sipe.