Future Career in the DEA


I intend for my future career to be in law enforcement, specifically in drug enforcement. As such, I will like to be employed by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA.) Such a detective must have a background in criminal justice and sociology, and likely additional training to prepare for their role. The role of a detective is significantly different, in actuality, then is portrayed in the media. There are many specific procedures a detective must follow, and there are a variety of circumstances relevant to a detective’s job. I have been considering living my future life in the state of Colorado, and as such, will consider the local facilities in relation to my future career.

The real role of a DEA agent vs. media-portrayed roles

One of the most critical areas regarding the difference between TV detectives of any kind and real ones is the unconventional and potentially hazardous actions taken in TV shows. In these shows, crime scenes are commonly disturbed in ways that would be significantly damaging in real life. Collecting evidence, even when carefully set aside or placing in bags can ruin a real case analysis. In real life, absolutely no one that is untrained should be touching a crime scene (Thompson, 2007). TV show procedures can also be damaging in the way they mislead victims, jurors, and others involved in a case. Victims and those related to them may come to believe that a case is solved quickly as they commonly are in television episodes, but in reality, cases take weeks, months, or even years to solve. Some cases may never be solved at all (Jones, 2003.) Jurors may also have some preconceived notions from TV shows on how forensic analysts do their job, and then use this notion to make their decisions (Thompson, 2007).

Other than the destructive effects TV shots many have, there are many other differences from what actually happens. On TV, detectives commonly focus on a single case when in reality they commonly work multiple cases simultaneously. Furthermore, unlike TV shows, detectives work on more than just the crime scene and interviews, as nearly half of a DEA detective’s work is spent on writing the reports of investigations (Jones, 2003).

The procedures in TV shows versus reality also have significant differences. In TV shows, most procedures that are supposed to be followed in real life are ignored. In real life, many specific procedures are involved. Unlike the TV shows, real test analyses are never revealed the following day while the equipment is shown on TV rarely exists in reality (Jones, 2003). Also, the detectives on the TV shows commonly develop the characters of detectives to be cold and hard, when in real life it is not unusual for detectives to be emotional or disturbed by their cases (Fletcher, 2006).

Essentially, detective work cannot be summarized with a “who done it” philosophy (Castillo, 2009). The modern media have portrayed detectives as people that can simply gear up and solve a case when in reality the factors are too many and too complex for this to happen.

Aspects of a detective’s position

The DEA detective’s position is not one that involves much idle time; the detective’s time is spent well across a number of tasks. The most important thing for the detective to do, which is probably the most important aspect of any competent member of law enforcement, is, to tell the truth. The general ideals of integrity and truth play a key role in detective work. When a detective is working on a particular crime scene, they must avoid doing anything and everything that is either unethical or intentionally against the procedure. Many things can be done to corrupt the actions of the law system through the actions of the detective, such as planting evidence or hiding evidence. Investigators are often called to court to testify, and here they are also critically obligated to act honesty so as to not obstruct justice, which they could easily do. Detectives choosing to obstruct justice for any reason whatsoever will likely lose theirs just in addition to immediate temporary action, such as the disregard of testimony (O’ Connor, 2006).

Detectives’ jobs are stressful, to say the least. They must take extreme care to follow procedure and policy to the letter, however, in most cases even this is not is as important as honesty.

Generally, there is a lot of ethical pressure placed on detectives. This pressure may come from the family of victims, the community, and the department. Detectives also commonly develop personal stresses as their feelings become wrapped around a personal judgment which they would like to see evoked upon the accused. Often detectives must know when to drop a case and return to it later to avoid this kind of stress. Unethical investigators can manipulate certain situations using dishonest practices to pass their own judgment and cause a particular action to be passed upon a person who may have not even been guilty (Stone, 2008).

One of the least important aspects of a job that may be the least important is the decisions involving authority among competent individuals. Rank order is supposed to delegate the order of authority but nonetheless does not carry significant weight. Among competent individuals, this is the least important factor in an investigation (O’Conner, 2006).

Background- criminology, and sociology

DEA agents have backgrounds in criminology and sociology. Criminology is a subject that relates very well to sociology. The problem with criminals, crime, and the cost to society is a significant issue of modern times. The sociology portion of this relationship is most relevant with regards to classic and recent social theories and concepts such as change and social inequality. The criminology side is most relevant in criminal justice, considering policing, penology, and politics related to criminal justice and sociology (Bartol & Bartol, 2008).

Criminology and socially are considered subjects of mutual compliments that together provide innovation in their accounts of a variety of matters related to crime, including the cause and effect of criminal actions, regulation of public order and policing, forming and outcomes of social disorders, and relationships between behavior and punishment (Barak, 1998).

Those who consider themselves to be “sociological criminologists” tend to be most interested in the relationships between class, gender, and crime. Empirical and theoretical evidence regarding these relationships show unique, yet partially unresolved issues in these areas. More research is required for the relationships between sociology and criminology to be fully understood (Barak, 1998).

DEA procedure

Procedures for evidence collecting have been developed so that they can be implemented by anyone. Procedures also may be tested to ensure feasibility, especially in the case of a crisis. When possible procedures are now done by computers and electronic equipment and according to a well-developed methodology. Normally in the evidence collection process, the evidence is analyzed in order of volatility from the most to the least volatile (Brazinski, 2002). The most common examples of evidence that has its own procedures include hair, fibers and threads, blood, semen, glass, paint, flammable liquids, firearm evidence, tool marks, controlled substances and paraphernalia, documents, and fingerprints (Crime Scene Investigator, 2009).

When drugs, weapons, or other items are found and it is deemed reasonable to consider that the items were likely used in the attempted or actual escape or to break through security in a case, effort must be made to protect the evidence until it is fully analyzed and documented or stored. The officer that found the items must comply (when possible) with: not touching the item, informing a manager, or carrying out the procedure as pre-designated by a supervising officer. When required to move or further investigate an item, officers must wear latex gloves when making any contact with the item. All non-sharp items are placed in plastic bags or envelopes, sealed, and stored. Sharp items are placed into special containers and appropriately labeled prior to storage. Storage items are labeled with the date and time of the finding, the names of witnesses to the find, the people in the area, the exact location, and the nature of the contents. Case numbers are also recorded (Queensland Corrective Services, 2009).

Digital files are downloaded to the system so images of the original location can be filed. All physical evidence must also be stored in the facility in the evidence room (Queensland Corrective Services, 2009).

Opening cold cases

DEA detectives commonly deal with cold cases or cases where there are no “warm” leads. Cold cases need to be opened in a predetermined way, of course, which must preserve the hierarchy of command. When important evidence is obtained it must also follow this order. Anything less than the letter of procedure can result in serious issues down the line. The exact procedures for things such as how to store items in a bag, how to close a bag, and make the proper reports should bagging procedure be performed incorrectly. Disposable gloves and precise documentation is also required while also having the potential for errors that could potentially obstruct justice (Department of Justice, 2002). Each item needs to be reviewed and separated. Eyewitness accounts, drawn profiles of criminals, pictures, and anything of the kind falls into this category. Lab reports and autopsies should also be reviewed, taking care not to rule any factor that could provide new information. Reexamining the evidence is the next step, while DNA should be sought due to the level of evidence it provides. If DNA is found, it should be collected according to procedure and placed into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) so any matches can be located upon entering or in the future (Department of Justice, 2002).

New cases and cold cases are alike in that they both require cooperation, a precise procedure, and obviously investigation. Ensuring a proper number of staff is available is one of the most helpful elements in cold cases, and thus should be employed to increase the likelihood of making progress (Turner & Kosa, 2003).

Lab-based work environment

Colorado is a state filled with military bases, large cities, a range of altitudes, and a range of temperatures. It is an ideal and attractive place for a DEA agent to pursue their career. The local analysis facilities play an integral role in the evaluation of evidence in crimes. While many crime labs exist in Colorado, many are smaller third-party labs that have a limited scope. The most important labs have partnerships with the government and have a broad scope. Three of these labs are the same type of lab which have different locations within the state. The labs are apparently quick to upgrade equipment with government funds as soon as possible, however, it can be argued that the labs could act faster in obtaining such equipment. Colorado is actually known to act faster than most states with some regards in the area of technology in crime labs, as robotics have been already employed for a few years while Colorado was among one of the first states to take such action.

There are three labs of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation in Colorado. One is in the Denver area, one is in the West Slope region, and one is in the Pueblo region. The mission for these labs is to provide support in criminal investigations in Colorado to the local law enforcement agencies. The Colorado Revised Statutes (CRS) allows the CBI to detect, prevent, and investigate crime within the state. Investigation Support Services are split into two main categories. Laboratory services encompass various specialized areas of investigative forensics and the major crimes unit which handles serious crimes as the name implies. The laboratory system was built to assist with analysis in the forensic efforts of any law enforcement group. Satellite laboratories are also included are part of this category while it services Montrose and Pueblo. Some types of investigations are eligible for crime scene support through this section. Overall the labs are a critical area in the structure of the state’s law enforcement. Fingerprints and impressions are handled here, which includes shoe and tire imprints as well as photography and general impression analysis.

The criminalistics and trace evidence department handle controlled substance analysis, alcohol analysis, gunshot remnant analysis, glass comparison, paint comparison, chemical identification, and explosive identification. (While these are common in cases outside of drug cases, DEA agents must still be involved with aspects of cases that commonly involve multiple crimes.) The remark and toolmark department is concerned with firearms testing, weapon identification, toolmark comparisons, and bullet cartridge comparisons. The serology department handles blood stains, semen, and other body fluid analysis. The DNA department analyzes DNA in blood, body fluids, hair, and other cellular substances. The questioned document analysis handles forgery, ink comparison, and other aspects of any suspicious document. These three labs are arguably the most important in Colorado. The labs are constantly being updated with new computers and instrumentation, however as this does not always occur as soon as the technology is available, they could improve in this area (Colorado Bureau of Investigation, 2009).

Another likely facility to be used by the strapping young DEA agent in Colorado is the Denver Crime Laboratory. The Denver Crime Laboratory is partnered with the Denver Police Department. They have nine units which are the Crime Scene Investigations Unit, the Forensic Chemistry Unit, the Trace Evidence Unit, the Firearms, and Toolmarks Unit, the Latent Print Unit, and the Photography Lab, the Forensic Biology and DNA Section, the Quality Assurance Unit, and the Crime Scene Volunteer Unit (City and County of Denver, 2009). Like the CBI locations, this lab can also update its computers and instrumentation closer to the time of availability. This instrumentation includes computers, electron microscopes, spectrometers, ultraviolent and infrared analysis instrumentation, DNA separation mapping and measurement, and other equipment. An agent would have a lot to learn here, though they would likely not be involved in many steps of the process.


The budding DEA agent has a lot to consider for the future in many areas. With in-depth research in many areas, one can avoid facing unforeseen challenges and circumstances.


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Bartol, C. & Bartol, A. (2008). Criminal Behavior: A Psychological Approach (8th ed.) Prentice Hall.

Brazinski, D. (2002). Guidelines for evidence collection and archiving. Network Working Group.

Castillo, F. (n.d). Basics of criminal profiling-TV Drama vs. Real-Life. Web.

City and Country of Denver (2009). Crime Laboratory Bureau. Criminal Investigations Division. Web.

Colorado Bureau of Investigation (2009). Laboratory. Colorado Department of Public Safety. Web.

Crime Control Digest (2005). COLORADO CRIME LAB INTRODUCES ROBOTICS. All Business.

Crime Scene Investigator.net (2009). Evidence Collection Guidelines. Web.

Department of Justice. (2002). Using DNA to solve cold cases. Web.

Fletcher, C. (2006). Crime Scene: Inside the World of the Real CSIs. New York, NY; St. Martin’s Press.

Jones, E. (2003). As Seen On TV: Reality vs. fantasy in occupational portrayals on the small screen. In Occupational Outlook Quarterly. Web.

O’Connor, T. (2006). An Overview Of Criminal Investigation. Web.

Queensland Corrective Services (2009). Procedure- Preservation of a Crime Scene and Evidence. Web.

Stone, J. (2008). Police Detective: A Police Officer Career For The Taking. Web.

Thompson, S. (2007). Why Crime Shows on TV are dangerous for the public. Web.

Turner, R., & Kosa, R. (2003). Cold Case Squads: Leaving no stone unturned. Web.

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