If you base your idea of an undercover police officer on what you see on TV shows, you probably think they all have flowing hair, gorgeous eyes and beautiful bodies, and can take down criminals while wearing stilettos. Real life is much different. The road to undercover work can be long, tough and highly selective. The danger involved in the job applies to women as well as men. In fact, special training exists tailored to female undercover officers to help them succeed. Catching criminals takes a combination of brains, brawn and bravery -- curling iron not required.
Local police divisions use undercover officers in vice, narcotics, homicide and special investigations. Qualifications vary by precinct, though most prefer a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. You must also take a polygraph test. Questions on the test might include whether you've been fired from a job or whether you've committed any crimes. Many precincts require two to three years experience as a patrol officer, though sometimes less experienced cops are used because they are less likely to be identified by suspects. In undercover work, the idea is to portray somebody else as a way of infiltrating a group suspected of criminal activity. For example, you might pose as a drug buyer to help bring down an organization that sells illegal drugs.
Navy Criminal Investigative Service
The NCIS, which investigates crimes involving military personnel, has a history rich in undercover work. NCIS undercover officers might be involved in the investigation of drug smuggling, weapons dealing and terrorism. In one case, the NCIS partnered with other undercover agencies to bust a drug, weapons and car stealing operation resulting in the recovery of $700,000 worth of stolen cars and the arrests of marines and a sailor. To qualify for the NCIS, you must have a bachelor's degree and a top-secret security clearance. Military experience is also desirable. Other military branches have undercover units too, including the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Army Criminal Investigative Command. If interested, contact the military police office at your nearest base.
Federal Undercover Jobs
The federal government offers undercover work through elite law enforcement agencies such as the DEA, FBI and CIA. If hired, you will work undercover to investigate cyber-crimes, drug trafficking, kidnappings and extortion, just to name a few. Each agency conducts intensive background checks and conducts polygraphs. Some agencies also have age limits. For example, to be an FBI special agent, you must be at least 23 years old to apply and can not have reached 37 years old upon your appointment. A bachelor's degree is usually required but a master's degree is preferred. The CIA has perhaps the most lengthy application process. This agency checks your foreign contacts and your ability to be coerced by your affiliations. You can inquire online at each agency's website.
The popular notion of undercover work for women often involves short skirts, high heels and a street corner. This stereotype of female undercover cops only posing as prostitutes is not accurate, however. Like their male counterparts, female undercover officers infiltrate everything from motorcycle gangs to police corruption rings. Although males still outnumber females in the number of undercover police jobs, female officers have made great strides in recent years and have numerous undercover opportunities with local, state and federal organizations.
Becoming a detective doesn't automatically grant you undercover work. Many detectives openly carry a badge and a gun and identify themselves to the world. An undercover cop or detective hides her shield and weapon and must often act like she loathes law enforcement. This is one of the most challenging parts of the job because most criminals are always on the lookout for the law, and seasoned criminals can easily spot a sloppy undercover cop. For example, a drug addict's weight usually fluctuates, so her clothes never fit right. If you want to pose as a drug user in an undercover operation, you must look the part. You can't effectively infiltrate a drug ring if you wear perfectly fitting jeans. In addition, criminals can usually tell when you've deliberately messed up your hair to make it look stringy and greasy. You have to take great care to look the part.
- Undercover.org: Officers
- Lawenforcementedu.net: Undercover Police Officer Careers
- Fairfax County Virginia: Police Undercover Operation Nets 23 Men; August 2013
- U.S. Air Force: Undercover organization's Achievements Spotlighted; Samuel Taylor; March 2012
- CBS8: Marines, Sailor Arrested In 8-Month Undercover Operation; June 2013
- Police Test: Polygraph
- Drug Enforcement Administration: DEA Special Agents - Qualifications
- Federal Bureau of Investigation: Special Agents - Special Agent Qualification Requirements
- Undercover.org: Advanced Undercover Techniques and Survival for Women
- Central Intelligence Agency: Careers and Internships
- Officer.com: Going Undercover; Susan Grant; October 2007
- Federal Bureau of Investigation: Celebrating Women Special Agents; September 2012
- Stop The Drug War: Undercover Cop Arrested for Selling Drugs to an Undercover Cop; Scott Morgan; July 2009
- U.S. Army: Army CID Wants More Soldiers as Special Agents
- Naval Criminal Investigative Service: Washington D.C. Field Office
Michelle Dwyer is a U.S. Army veteran writing fiction and nonfiction since 2003. She specializes in business, careers, leadership, military affairs and organizational change and behavior. Dwyer received an MBA from Tarleton State University/Texas A&M Central Texas and an MFA in creative writing from National University in La Jolla, Calif.