Given Arizona’s proximity to major drug trafficking organizations in Mexico, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is highly active in the state. DEA efforts in Arizona are spearheaded by the Phoenix Division, which monitors drug interdiction efforts in the northern and central parts of the state. Southern Arizona is under the auspices of the Tucson District Office of the DEA.
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Drug Interdiction Efforts in Arizona
Drug trafficking in some parts of the United States is measured in pounds, while multi-ton quantities of drugs are smuggled into Arizona. Aside from being transported by vehicles and people on foot, ultralight aircraft and subterranean tunnels are used to transport drugs from Mexico into Arizona. DEA careers in Arizona involve work along the southwestern border and in more central parts of the state. Recent high-level busts include the following.
- In February 2013, a federal grand jury indicted a highly ranked member of the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel for conspiring to distribute methamphetamine and laundering money.
- In a joint effort between the DEA, FBI, ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives), and local authorities, a high-level, violent drug dealer was sentenced to 15 years in jail in February 2013. The former leader of the DC Boyz (Diamond Creek Boyz) gang was arrested with over 100 g of methamphetamine. He was also found to be in possession of around 100 firearms and had been involved in carjackings.
- Following a three year investigation by the DEA and the Border Patrol, a Mexican national who lived in Phoenix was sentenced to 24 years in federal prison in December 2012. He was found to be in possession of cocaine and methamphetamine, along with conspiring to distribute the drugs.
- In conjunction with state and local authorities, DEA agents served 12 search warrants and seized over 20,000 units of synthetic drugs in Phoenix and Scottsdale. This November 2012 operation was the result of a seven month investigation that interrupted an extensive drug organization.
What it Takes to Become a DEA Agent in Arizona
To begin formal training to become a DEA agent at the DEA Academy, applicants must have either a J.D. or LL.B. degree, a Bachelor’s degree with relevant experience such as accounting, being a pilot or captain of a ship, or else have law enforcement experience with anti-drug operations.
Residents of Arizona who wish to become a DEA agent in the state should contact the Phoenix Division to see if there are potential DEA jobs in Arizona. Applicants must have excellent health, good hearing and vision, and be free of emotional or mental conditions that could impede their work.
Formal training will take place at the DEA Academy in Quantico, Virginia, and also at the FBI Academy located at the same site. Coursework will be conducted under the auspices of the DEA, while practical training such as using firearms and conducting pursuit driving will take place at the FBI facility.
The Nature of the Drug Problem in Arizona
Drug smuggling from Mexico into Arizona is such a serious problem that a number of counties in Arizona have been designated part of the Arizona HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area). This includes all of the counties that border Mexico, along with Maricopa, Pinal, La Paz, and Mohave counties, going all the way up to the Utah border on the western side of Arizona.
In 2009, 42% of all of the marijuana smuggled into the US along the Southwest Border took place in the Arizona HIDTA region. The primary entry point for drugs in Arizona is the remotely populated Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation along the Mexican border. Once illicit drugs have been brought into Arizona, they are readily shipped to the rest of the U.S. from Phoenix and Tucson.
DEA agents face violent attacks from drug smugglers at the border, and street-level gangs that distribute drugs contribute greatly to the amount of violence in Arizona. There were estimated to be 100 street gangs in Tucson alone in 2010. Gangs such as the Crips have been increasingly moving their operations to urban areas of the state to thwart efforts by law enforcement agents.
Methamphetamine – According to a 2010 survey of drug threats by the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), 56% of those who responded considered powder and ice methamphetamine to be the greatest drug threat within the Arizona HIDTA region. Despite a 93% increase in seizures of these drugs from 2009 over 2008, prices continued to fall, indicating that there was still a strong supply for methamphetamine in Arizona. Despite efforts in Mexico to crack down on the raw supplies needed to manufacture this type of drug, DEA agents are finding increasing amounts of methamphetamine being smuggled into Arizona from Mexico.
Marijuana – Most of the marijuana in Arizona is smuggled in through the Nogales corridor. Nearly 1.7 million pounds of marijuana were seized in the Arizona HIDTA region in 2009. DEA agents have found that most of the drug smuggling attempts involve Mexican nationals carrying backpack loads of up to 100 pounds across the border. Locally grown pot is also a problem. Over 10,000 plants were confiscated and destroyed in Arizona in 2009.
Opiates – Emergency room visit data for 2008 from the Arizona Department of Health Services showed that fewer people were being hospitalized for overdoses from using cocaine and methamphetamine. Instead, there was a significant increase in overdoses from heroin and prescription opiates.
The availability of heroin in 2009 remained unchanged, despite an increase in the number of seizures. The abuse of prescription drugs such as Oxycontin is of growing concern in Arizona. The market for these drugs is so great that there have been armed robberies of pharmacies in the Phoenix area. Pharmacies in Mexico are a major source of controlled prescription drugs that are smuggled into Arizona.
Cocaine – The activities of DEA agents have put a dent in the abuse of cocaine in Arizona. Because so much cocaine is being seized in this state, the price for it has gone up significantly. The wholesale price for cocaine was over 80% higher in 2009 than in 2008.