5 tips for safe, legal and effective drug interdiction

As with all high-risk law enforcement activities, training and preparation is essential


In March 2020, Police1 and Louisiana State University (LSU) conducted an expansive survey capturing law enforcement attitudes toward marijuana use and enforcement. A total of 3,615 sworn LEOs weighed in on a range of topics, from the use of medicinal marijuana off duty to decriminalization. 

Our special report features expert analysis of the survey findings, covering critical topics like police recruit marijuana use and how marijuana legalization impacts highway safety. Click here to access all our coverage.

Drug interdiction is a high-risk activity in part because of the range of scenarios law enforcement officers will encounter. Are you dealing with an individual who simply has a stash on hand for personal use or a dealer involved in a large-scale operation? Will your subject react calmly to enforcement action or will they take desperate action to avoid arrest?

The risks are equally diverse: A botched search can result in a voided arrest or worse, lead to civil litigation. And there’s the constant threat to officer safety, both from subjects under the influence of drugs, who may act unpredictably, and subjects who are transporting high volumes of drugs and have a lot to lose if caught.

As with all high-risk law enforcement activities, training and preparation are essential.

As with all high-risk law enforcement activities, training and preparation are essential.
As with all high-risk law enforcement activities, training and preparation are essential. (Photo/Getty Images)

Following are five drug interdiction tips from officers with decades of experience in narcotics investigation and enforcement:

1. Remember that some health conditions can masquerade as illegal drug use.

A critical aspect to effective, legally sound drug interdiction is knowing the signs, symptoms and behaviors caused by different drugs. Equally important is recognizing that a subject’s unusual or erratic behavior may be caused by a health-related issue that requires immediate medical attention.

Law enforcement officers must be familiar with contemporary drug combinations and the behaviors associated with them, while also understanding the health conditions that can lead to similar behaviors.

2. When making a drug interdiction traffic stop, ask all occupants the same questions.

Asking questions of drivers and occupants allows the person to talk and give you unsolicited information. This information can be used to develop reasonable suspicion and to see if driver and occupant stories match up.

3. Follow the rules.

Those involved in illegal drug sales are often very familiar with the law, and they will look for opportunities to catch officers making mistakes. If you do not maintain your integrity, you risk everything, including the case and your career.

It’s important to balance your passion for interdiction with the patience and carefulness to make sure each operation is done right.

4. Use multi-member interdiction teams in metropolitan areas.

In high-traffic areas where cars are moving quickly, you may not be able to pull out in time to stop a vehicle. Spacing officers out 1 or 2 miles allows the first officer to radio to the other officer up the road, providing the probable cause and the vehicle’s lane position so they can be prepared to make the top.

5. Don’t lose focus of the primary objective – which is conducting a safe stop, not finding drugs.

Maintaining situational awareness is essential. Protect your firearm, perform good frisks, properly secure subjects, call for backup early and maintain safe positioning. Don’t let the desire to find drugs lead you to forget the key fundamentals of officer safety.

Additional resources

Want to learn more? These tips were adapted from training videos available through Lexipol’s PoliceOne Academy, an online training platform that offers agency and personal subscriptions to a course library of more than 400 full courses and 1,100 videos. Download our course catalog to learn more!

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