The hidden badge: the undercover narcotics operation

     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...

     Approximately a year later, I found myself divorced, out of work, tired and now under the microscope for a list of allegations, rumors and scandal surrounding my entire operation. After days of being interrogated, I found myself alone and fighting to defend my every action, more than the people I was trying to put behind bars. It was as if a veil was thrown over the entire drive of our operation and I was now the one on trial.

     One pearl of wisdom I'd like to extend to other officers is to "read the writing on the wall." If an agency appears to be working on a frail operating budget, plagued by internal drama, lacking regular training, and regularly inundated with highs and lows, the same infection will slowly fester in your U/C operation. A successful operation must always start with a professional department backing it.

Picture of success

     Departments are constantly fighting the war on operational funding, and day-to-day operations will typically come before spending money on the war against drugs. A department wanting to start an U/C operation or an officer desiring work as an U/C operative must ensure long-term essentials are reviewed before introducing an U/C agent to the field.

     These include but are not limited to: Money, training, money, training, training, money, training and money. I think you understand where I am going with this. Narcotics-specific training for ALL team members prior to the start of an U/C operation combined with financial backing for long-term missions are absolute musts.

     Financial constraints can add time restrictions and stress to any mission and, almost certainly, cause agents to act hastily in an attempt to accelerate the investigation. This can cause safety concerns and at times affect ethical decision-making skills. The tempo and pace of any operation should be set by upper-level administrators with an optimistic yet realistic approach. One buy a week was the predetermined goal set by a sheriff I worked with early in my U/C career. "What if we can't produce?" I asked. "Then you aren't doing your job," I was told. In my opinion, this is an unrealistic goal that operations should steer clear of. Although from a monetary and administrative standpoint we want to be successful in our mission, there should never be a set number [of buys] as a goal early on in any operation.

     More times than not, I have been approached by agencies wanting to initiate an U/C operation with no additional manpower, training and/or funding, and every time, there is someone standing in the wings waiting to take a stab at it. Agencies wishing to take a proactive approach toward narcotics work must first realize there must be just as much focus aimed at spending money as on the goal or focus at hand. When developing an operational budget, administrators must take into consideration that money will be needed for drug purchases, extra agent or staff salaries, specialty vehicles, alternative housing (i.e. hotel rooms or apartments), and miscellaneous expenses.

The right man for the job

     In today's policing, it is more important than ever to have dedicated team players assigned to a narcotics section. Giving the especially heightened risk involved in U/C operations, careful consideration and training must be given to the selection of the "perfect" candidate. The motivation of the candidate, his or her personal and professional background, financial or credit status, mental and physical conditioning are all important ingredients in a successful operation.

     Contrary to popular beliefs, U/C work is not an assignment that will cause the officer to become a heroin-injecting junkie or isolate him from friends and family but one that will mandate an unusual work schedule and prevent him from discussing day-to-day activities with individuals outside the unit. The unique hours of operation mixed with the stress of one-on-one contact with alleged dealers can add stress and nervous tension to many agents, furthering the need to diligently select a good candidate from the operation's onset.

     Although my experience as an U/C operative has been a rewarding and fulfilling venture, it has also opened my eyes to the high demands from both an agent and administrative standpoint. I encourage anyone wanting to pursue an U/C operation to do your homework and remember that all that glitters is not gold.

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