In retirement, I can still refer to “The War on Drugs” as “The War on Drugs,” a phrase not popular with the current administration. Despite what you want to call it, this administration made progress last week in narcotics enforcement when an inter-agency agreement was signed between the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to substantially increase the number of ICE Special Agents with Title 21 authority. This puts an end to years-long tension between the two federal law enforcement agencies regarding how many, and under what circumstances, ICE agents could investigate narcotics cases.
The agreement sends a clear message to both agencies and will enhance morale at ICE, an agency with a diverse investigative portfolio that includes not only narcotics enforcement, but financial crimes, national security, immigration enforcement, IPR, cyber crime, child ponography, and beyond. It will increase the exchange of information and intelligence between the agencies as ICE agents will (for the first time) fully participate in the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Fusion Center.
Title 21 authority has long been a “point of contention” between the two agencies as both attempted to “protect their turf.” The ability to investigate “narcotics crimes” (known a Title 21) rests with the Drug Enforcement Administration, part of the Justice Department. The Attorney General has granted ICE the authority to conduct Title 21 investigations through cross-designation. Historically Justice/DEA has cross-designated only about 1500 ICE agents with Title 21 authority; under the new agreement, this number that will increase significantly.
Title 21 authority aside, both agencies must continue to work together on narcotics investigations. As the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) for ICE in New York City a few years ago, I was very fortunate to work with DEA SACs in New York City that welcomed and embraced ICE’s participation in international narcotics investigations. I cannot recall a single narcotics case that was negatively impacted by the requirement to have an ICE agent cross-designated with Title 21 authority. Simply, if we needed the authority, we requested it from DEA, and closely coordinated the subsequent investigation with DEA.
It never became an issue because we worked together; not only did DEA gladly cooperate with ICE but ICE agents took every effort to coordinate with DEA and share critical information from such investigations. This is the ideal partnership, where both sides give a little and get something in return, like any good partnership. The future success of narcotics enforcement in the U.S. will depend on that continued partnership.