The crippling effects drug abuse and drug-related crime can have on communities are well known. To prevent this threat from destabilizing communities all across America, President Richard Nixon formed the Drug Enforcement Agency in 1973 as a new component of the Department of Justice with the aim of enforcing the laws and regulations in the Controlled Substances Act.
DEA Special Agents are highly-trained individuals who must often assume the role of intelligence agency in addition to performing on-the-ground field work. Their primary goal is to interdict drug trafficking and dismantle organized crime entities who manufacture or distribute illegal drugs and controlled substances. Since their formation, the DEA and the Special Agents they employ have seized trillions of dollars in illegal or controlled substances and brought some of the most dangerous criminals in America and abroad to justice.
What Does a DEA Special Agent Do?
In their mission to disrupt patterns of drug manufacturing, trafficking and distribution, the DEA must assume multiple roles. One of these roles is that of intelligence gathering and investigation. In an effort to find the source of major drug operations, DEA agents must monitor persons of interest continually for weeks, months and even years on end. Sometimes, surveillance involves undercover work, placing special agents at high risk of exposure and capture. Other times, surveillance monitors digital communications online through cellular networks and other methods. This combined surveillance builds a case that allows the agency to understand both the administrative structure and funding structure of the illegal drug-related enterprise. When enough evidence is assembled, action can take place.
Disrupting the Drug Trade & Conducting Raids
Action may involve disruption, such as placing additional patrols along known trafficking areas to discourage further transport. A common form of disruption is eliminating sources of funding by freezing assets or prosecuting key individuals who knowingly support drug-related illegal enterprises.
Action can also take the place of physical raids. DEA Special Agents plan these raids for weeks in order to calculate the smallest possible risk of casualties to government employees, criminal perpetrators, and innocent civilian bystanders. Since many drug operations are heavily armed and often have surveillance methods of their own, raids can be intensely dangerous.
Not every DEA operation involves the manufacture, trafficking, distribution or sale of illegal narcotics. Diversion of legal controlled substances such as prescription painkillers is a major problem, even among medical and pharmaceutical professionals. Raids have been carried out on seemingly law-abiding businesses and professionals for their illegal actions involving the illegitimate dispensing or sometimes outright theft of controlled substances.
Despite the risks involved with the profession, DEA Special Agents find the work highly rewarding since it can have a direct positive effect on American communities. Special Agents frequently collaborate with other agencies like Border Patrol, the FBI, state police and local law enforcement, lessening the burden on these agencies to handle drug-related crime. DEA employees also enjoy making use of specialized skills they have developed through training and experience.
Where Does a DEA Special Agent Work?
The official DEA headquarters are located in Springfield, Virginia within the larger federal area of Arlington, Virginia known as “Pentagon City.” The DEA also operates 21 separate domestic field divisions based out of several major U.S. cities and regions.
Field operations can take place anywhere within these general designated regions, with some special agent teams being dispatched to smaller communities on a semi-permanent basis. Additionally, the DEA has exclusive jurisdiction abroad when investigating and trying to disrupt foreign drug operations that have been determined to have a direct effect on the health and safety of American citizens.
DEA Special Agent Salary & Job Outlook
Newly hired DEA agents are paid according to the General Schedule federal pay scale levels of GS-7 or GS-9. These base salaries correspond to $35,009 and $42,823 a year, respectively. Individuals are also entitled to an added percentage of locality pay, which varies based on the cost of living according to your assignment location. DEA agents also receive government benefits and may be eligible for hazard pay, allowances and other stipends.
Additional Careers in Law Enforcement
Consider these additional careers in law enforcement.
Crime Scene Investigator