Becoming an Undercover Narcotics Officer

Learn about the educational and training requirements to become an undercover narcotics officer, the challenges of the job and the best way to progress in the field. Schools offering Law Enforcement degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career at a Glance

Undercover narcotics officers help to fight drug crime by gathering evidence against narcotics producers, traffickers and dealers without identifying themselves as officers. They become part of drug operations, build networks and hide their true identify while working to build a case against illegal narcotics networks, ultimately leading to arrests and charges.

Find out more details in the table below.

Degree Required Varies from high school diploma to bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Criminology
Key Skills Communication, good judgment, empathy, physical stamina
Job Growth (2016-2026) 7% (all police and detectives)*
Median Annual Wage (2018) $81,920 (detectives and criminal investigators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do Undercover Narcotics Officers Do?

Undercover narcotics officers work to combat the trafficking and dealing of illegal narcotics. They cultivate and handle sources, plan narcotics operations, conduct surveillance and are up to date on current drug trends. Most of all, they know how to blend in so that no one suspects their real line of work.

Undercover narcotics officers need to win the trust of drug traffickers and dealers and become part of their operations, all while gathering evidence against them. They know how various drugs are produced and how to build networks with relevant people in the field. They analyze information, coordinate operations with other officers and agencies and plan raids and arrests.

The profession is a very dangerous one due to the nature of the work, the risk drug operations pose in general and the special risk of having their identity as officers uncovered. It could mean having very limited contact with friends and relatives while operations are underway, and adopting different personas and lifestyles so as not to be suspected.

What Education Do I Need to Become an Undercover Narcotics Officer?

Aspiring undercover narcotics officers require at least a high school diploma, and depending on the employer, may need a college degree. In order to advance later in your career, a bachelor's degree in a field like criminology is beneficial. Federal agencies such as the FBI typically also require candidates to have a bachelor's degree.

What Additional Experience Do I Need?

Working as an undercover narcotics officer is an advanced step in your career and won't be the first thing you do coming out of training. These professionals are usually detectives. To be promoted to detective, you need to have spent at least four years as a police officer. Building and maintaining contacts with officers already working in the field, attending specialized training and learning everything you can about narcotics operations will help pave the way while working as an officer.

Do I Need Additional Training?

To become a police officer, you need to attend a specialized police training academy that teaches subjects such as law, civil rights and ethics in the police force, as well as firearm use, emergency response and first aid. Federal law enforcement officers have to complete more extensive training to qualify for work.

To then become an undercover narcotics officer, you should complete additional training in the field of narcotics. If your employer doesn't organize such training for you, you can contact the National Narcotics Officer Association about options in your state. Regular training sessions are held all across the country.

Some state organizations also offer specific certification for police officers working with narcotics. For example, the Georgia Public Safety Training Center runs the Narcotics Investigator Certification training program, aimed at officers with at least three years' experience in the police force and one year as a narcotics officer.

What Income and Job Growth Can I Expect?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not specify salaries for undercover narcotics officers, but these professionals are grouped under detectives and criminal investigators, who earned a median annual salary of $81,920 in 2018. Demand for detectives and criminal investigators is expected to increase by 7% from 2016 to 2026, which is in line with the outlook for the overall labor market. While a growing population and continued demand for safety will lead to higher demand, local and state budgets will dictate where positions are created.

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