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Breaking Into the DEA

Breaking Into the DEA

DEA Agents seen here training in Quantico, Virginia. (Photo:

Jeff Hindenach | PoliceLink

The Drug Enforcement Agency holds some of the most sought-after jobs in the law enforcement field. Started in 1973 by President Richard Nixon, the agency has the duel task of stopping the use of illegal drugs in the U.S., as well as halting drug smuggling from other countries into the U.S. With offices all over the world, the DEA has 10,800 employees and a budget of over $2.4 billion.

The DEA has very competitive standards and only takes the cream of the crop when looking for special agents. Find out if you have what it takes to make it in the DEA.

Have the Background

As a cop, you already have the background and training that the DEA is looking for. Those with law enforcement and military experience are preferred over all other applicants. All applicants must have a bachelor’s degree, with special attention going to those with a criminal or law degree, and those who are multi-lingual are some of the most sought-after candidates in the DEA. Your best bet in getting started is to attend an orientation that local DEA offices offer to potential candidates.

Know the Requirements

The DEA has some of the strictest guidelines for employment. In addition to having a law enforcement and/or legal background, one must also be in top physical condition and pass a Physical Task Test. Candidates cannot be under 21 or over 37 and must be a U.S. citizen. Candidates must also pass an interview session, which includes a psychological evaluation. In addition, the DEA requires an extensive background check on every potential employee.

Pass the In-Depth Investigation

Employees of the DEA are constantly scrutinized about drug use. Any previous or current drug use will absolutely exclude you from being considered. Drug tests happen randomly throughout your career at the DEA. In addition, when you apply, you must fill out a Drug Questionnaire that lists all your previous drug interactions. You don’t just have these tests to worry about — an extensive police background investigation is done on each candidate, which includes interviews with everyone in your life — family, friends, bosses, co-workers, neighbors, and even teachers. There are also credit and criminal record investigations and a polygraph test that each employee has to pass.

Pick a Specialty

The DEA offers many different career paths that will suit any background in law enforcement. The most common, and also most dangerous, are the Special Agents who work directly in the field. These positions require more training and physical tests than most of the other positions.

If the field isn’t right for you, there are plenty of other opportunities. Diversion Investigators are in charge of the direct investigations of the sale and distribution of controlled substances. If you are more into forensics, there are plenty of opportunities in the DEA, such as Forensic Chemist or Fingerprint Specialist. Or if you’d rather work with data, try your hand as a Intelligence Research Specialist.

Ace the Training

Training for the DEA — which happens at their academy at the US Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia — is a 16-week program, including an intense 122-hour firearms training, which tests everything from weapon safety to tactical shooting and marksmanship. The agency’s firearm of choice is the Glock 22 and Glock 23 in .40 caliber ammunition. According to the DEA training site, a large part of the training focuses on “respect for human life, leadership and ethics, human dignity, and sound judgment in the use of deadly force.” The trainees are expected to translate those lessons into real-life simulation exercises before they can pass training.

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