To say it’s a dangerous job might be an understatement. Undercover drug task force agents come face–to-face with criminals dressed just like me or you. That means no radio, no bulletproof vest, no taser and no handcuffs – some of the critical tools you might associate with a law enforcement officer. Instead, all they have is a well-hidden gun (so not to give away their disguise) and a wire.
“It’s our lifeline,” said Ginger Peterson, supervising agent with the Minnesota River Valley Drug Task Force. “We never make a buy without at least three officers standing by ready to jump in if something happens.”
Peterson has worked as an undercover narcotics officer for the past 15 years. She started with a drug task force in Cincinnati, Ohio before joining the Minnesota River Valley Drug Task Force, a multi-jurisdictional unit that serves about 170,000 people in southwest Minnesota. On May 21, 2013, she accepted an award on behalf of the drug task force from the Justice Studies Club on the Rasmussen College Mankato Campus. The award recognizes officers who go above and beyond the call of duty to keep their communities safe.
“Having just celebrated National Police Week, it only seemed fitting to honor the commitment of those who put their lives on the line daily,” said Bob Sutter (seen pictured above), School of Justice Studies Program Coordinator at Rasmussen College. “We wanted to recognize the drug task force for its outstanding efforts.”
After the award presentation, Peterson talked about life as an undercover narcotics officer and took questions from students about what she sees out in the community. Over the past year, the Minnesota River Valley Drug Task Force seized 12 pounds of marijuana, several pounds of cocaine and 18 pounds of methamphetamine. Her biggest bust ever took place last year when the drug task force seized nine pounds of methamphetamine – almost all of it was 98 percent pure meth.
“Meth labs are going right back up,” said Peterson. “We saw a drop back in 2005 after the pseudoephedrine legislation was passed, but now we’re seeing a new method of cooking meth. It’s much faster and selling for a lot more money.”
Peterson says pharmaceuticals also continue to be a hot drug right now, especially among our youth.
“What many kids don’t realize is it’s a felony to sell pharmaceuticals like Oxycodone or Adderall,” said Peterson. “Pharmaceuticals are also highly addictive. Once kids are hooked, dealers bring in heroin which is more potent but less money. The Twin Cities is seeing this right now, and I believe it’s the next thing to come down here.”
The Minnesota River Valley Drug Task Force works closely with local schools. Peterson says she often talks to teachers about what they should be on the lookout for. Agents are also present during school locker searches in case drugs are found.
One Rasmussen College student wanted to know if Peterson had ever come across someone she bought drugs from while out in the community. Peterson had to laugh because she says she’s actually arrested the same guy three times.
“The second time I changed my hair color, so he didn’t recognize me,” said Peterson. “The third time was kind of a joke. My fellow agents wanted to see if I could actually get him to sell drugs to me for a third time so I wore a baseball cap and glasses, and sure enough he sold me the drugs.”
Although that drug bust provided a good laugh, the potential dangers Peterson faces is no laughing matter. As Peterson put it, law enforcement is “no place for a cowboy.”
“You shouldn’t be in law enforcement if you don’t sense fear,” said Peterson. “I’ve approached meth labs where cooking is taking place or a line of coke is sitting right in front of me next to a gun. You have to be prepared for anything.”
After more than a decade undercover, Peterson is moving on from the narcotics world next month. She’ll soon be the new welfare fraud investigator for Blue Earth County. Peterson says she’ll miss working for the drug task force but is ready to spend more time with her family.
For more on the time commitment and dedication it takes to be a part of a specialized drug task force, as well as what qualities you need to be an undercover officer, watch the video below.