By Keith Graves, student, Criminal Justice at American Military University
At some point in your law enforcement career, you choose a path to follow. This path leads you to a type of policing that you enjoy and can hopefully get a special assignment in, so you can pursue this interest. For me, I chose narcotics investigations. I love being a dope cop. Drugs are involved in the majority of calls for service; that auto burglary wasn’t likely committed by a guy making a living off stealing car stereos, after all.
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So how do you become the best dope cop in the department? Follow these five steps to success.
- Get training. If your department doesn’t send you to training, send yourself. You can start by contacting your state’s narcotics officers association. As an example, the California Narcotics Officers Association puts on a training every week somewhere in the state. These trainings vary from identifying drug influence to drug lab training and are some of the best drug training you can get anywhere in the country. And, at $35 for a one-day class, you can’t beat the price. Currently, 40 of the 50 states have a narcotics officers association. You can find out if one is in your state by contacting the National Narcotics Officers Association. I started my career by sending myself to every drug class I could go to, paying my own way, and then taking vacation to attend the class. You will be amazed how much you improve with a little extra training.
- Stop by your agency’s narcotics unit and get to know the detectives working there. Ask them for the drug tips they have received, but don’t have time to follow up on. My unit gets fresh intel every day, but there is no way we can keep up with the flow of information coming in. To keep things from falling through the cracks, we give intel we don’t have time to follow up on to the hard chargers in our agency. As time goes on and you prove yourself, they will start calling on you to assist in surveillance, search warrant service, and wall stops. With more exposure to high-level cases, your knowledge base will expand. You’ll also get to know more of the people involved in the dope business in your jurisdiction. This familiarity leads to great cases you develop on your own.
- Get to know your district attorney. As your criminal cases go to court, talk to the DA handling them about what you can do to improve your work before it heads to court. They’ll appreciate your tenacity and give you clues about how to make strong cases. At the same time, you’ll learn what the DA likes when they put your case in front of a jury.
- Talk to every doper you run across. I used to carry a carton of cigarettes in my car and give drug addicts a pack of smokes to talk to me. You’ll be amazed what they will tell you, from how they hide their dope from the cops, to how they smuggle drugs and distribute them in jails. They’ll tell you what it’s like to be high on certain drugs, how they became addicted, and what they are willing to do to get their next fix. Whenever a new drug fad comes out, I reach out to those who talk to me regularly to have them fill me in on everything I need to know about that drug. Every time you arrest someone for drugs, talk to them about anything drug related. After 26 years, I still ask the same basic questions about their drug use and I still learn something new every time.
- Learn how to work informants. Read your department’s policy on informant use. Know it front to back and follow it! Then talk to your department narcs and get their feedback about how to work informants on the street. Once you have a solid foundation to work on, start using information garnered on the street for your next bust. But beware! Follow your department’s policy verbatim. A lot of trouble can be had if you don’t follow the rules.
Working drug cases has been some of the most rewarding work I have ever done. It has also made me a better cop in other areas, such as criminal investigation and interview and interrogation. Invest your time, invest in relationships on the street and in the department, and invest in training. With practice and dedication, you’ll be one of the best dope cops in your agency.
About the Author: Keith Graves has been a police officer in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1990 and is currently a supervisor for a Special Operations Unit (a unit tasked with narcotic, vice and gang investigations). Keith is a Drug Recognition Expert Instructor and teaches both the DRE course and the CNOA Drug Abuse Recognition Course. Keith has also taught at the Basic Police Academy and has developed a number of drug courses for the California Narcotics Officers Association. Keith has held assignments as a Narcotics/Vice Detective, Training Sergeant, Patrol Sergeant, COPPS Officer, Traffic Officer, and SWAT Team Leader. Keith has taught thousands of officers and businesses about drug use, drug trends, compliance training and drug investigations. Keith earned a BA in Business Management from Saint Mary’s College of California. He is attending American Military University pursuing a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice in the School of Security and Global Studies. Keith is also a member of the Kappa Kappa chapter of Alpha Phi Sigma National Criminal Justice Honor Society at AMU. Keith is the founder and president of Graves & Associates, a company dedicated to providing drug training to law enforcement and private industry.