Ahhhhhhhh, the life of a narcotics officer. It is just like the movies, drinking champagne, cruising in your custom Denali, screaming down the water in your "Go Fast" cigar boat, and sitting in a hot tub with a hand-rolled Cuban and seven of the hottest women in the world. Oh, and who can forget the plethora of sweet-ass gadgets at your disposal, all of which have not even made their way to market yet! Yes, unfortunately, this still appears to be the image of the undercover (U/C) narcotics agent, and somehow the foundation or "motivation" for many young officers to make their way into the narcotics world.
Some folks come to police work because they want to wear a "fashionable" polyester uniform and actually help folks. That may be fine for them. However, it is an individual who is totally devoted to the big picture, the greater good if you will, who strives to be a candidate for U/C work. It is important to remember that U/C work has changed dramatically over the past 10 to 20 years. The days of the Lone Ranger going out with a pocketful of money and being a bad guy are over for the most part.
Advances in technology, increased liability and budget constraints have caused many smaller agencies to steer away from U/C operations and, in turn, these causes have put a once common practice on the endangered species list. If an officer is considering U/C work in today's world, for any reason other than the greater good or truly wanting to be a part of a team, then he or she should rethink the idea. The old Playstation II slogan "Live in your world, play in ours" adequately sums up the life of the U/C operative. It is American policing at its best but no one ever said being the best would be easy.
One of the most frequent and disturbing comments often heard from young officers is, "I really want to get into narcotics work. It looks easy and I think I would be really good at that sort of thing." Let me give you some insight into the error behind this sort of thinking by sharing my big break as an U/C operative. It came in 1999, in the form of a cold beer with a good friend, who was a sergeant with a relatively small agency. With some idle bar talk over the increase of methamphetamine production and a few mentions of the "who's who" in the county, my friend asked me a question that would change my life forever, "Bro, do you want to try and work some dope for us?" I couldn't answer quickly enough, "Hell yeah," I stated. "When do I start?" After about two weeks, I was contacted by the sheriff and asked to meet the sergeant and the chief deputy in a remote location somewhere just south of the county. Upon my arrival, I was placed in an orange jumpsuit, handcuffed and taken to the sheriff's office where I was fingerprinted and run through the paces to give the impression of being booked in. All the while I was being fingerprinted, I kept telling myself, "This must be how it's done. This must be how everyone gets introduced into the undercover world."
Following the booking process, I was placed in a single holding cell where I sat until the judge was free to swear me in. His chambers were across the street and could easily be seen from my jail cell. As time seemed to drag by, the knot in my stomach began to grow. "Surely there will be some instruction once I am sworn in," I continued to tell myself. After about six hours, I was paraded across the street to the judge's chamber where I was sworn in and vowed to uphold the laws of the state and county. "Congratulations," the judge replied, as I was shuffled out the door. The walk back was different than the walk over. This time, I was handed a roll of cash (which I quickly concealed in my jumpsuit), given a quick nod and the words I remember as if it were yesterday, "We've got a lot riding on this, man. Go out and make something happen."