Interview with Officer Christopher Lane

Welcome Christopher Lane: Drug Enforcement Administration – Make your officers believable in your story. Former DEA – Metropolitan Narcotics Task Force Officer

Mary: Thank you for joining us today, Chris. Can you tell us about yourself?

Chris: Well, from a professional standpoint I have worked for the Utah Department of Corrections fro 19 years. In that time I have been a Correctional Officer (3 years), a Probation and Parole Officer (7 years), and an Investigator III and IV (9 years). Also, while working as an Investigator I was fortunate to spend two years working as a Task Force Officer (TFO) with the DEA/Metro Narcotics Task Force in their Salt Lake City District Office (TFO is a temporary assignment that allows a state or local officer to gain federal experience while contributing to a multi-jurisdictional task force).

I have graduated from the Utah Corrections Academy (Session #26 in 1990) and the Utah Police Academy (Session #194 in 1995). Graduating from these sessions fulfills the Peace Officer Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) training requirements for me to act as a certified corrections officer and a certified law enforcement officer in the State of Utah. Once you are certified as a law enforcement officer you are also required to complete 40 hours of in-service training annually in order to maintain your certification.

Also, while working I have completed an Associate of Science degree in Criminal Justice and a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice Administration.

Mary: What type of training did you go through to become a DEA officer?

Chris: The above-mentioned P.O.S.T. certification as a state law enforcement officer is required along with being sworn in as special deputy federal agent in order to give you the jurisdiction to enforce federal drug laws. Also, once you become a TFO the DEA puts you through a two week Basic Drug Investigator Course. Additionally, I attended a one week Clandestine Drug Laboratory course at the DEA Academy in Quantico, VA. Completion of this course certifies you to investigate and process Methamphetamine Labs.

Mary: I understand you attended Quantico, can you tell us how long you were there and what a typical training day consists of?

Chris: Yes, as I noted above I did attend the Clan Lab course for a period of one week in Quantico. This training centered on learning to identify the difference processes and chemicals used to manufacture methamphetamines and followed up with practical exercises that involved utilizing Tyvek suits and a Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA). This also included a somewhat exciting practical in a “smoke house” while wearing a SCBA and Tyvek suit. Living arrangements consisted of dorm rooms at the academy and eating in the cafeteria. Although the DEA has a student lounge/bar at the Academy called the “Golden Eagle.” But the beer was kind of pricey.

Mary: What is a typical day in the life of TFO Christopher Lane?

Chris: Typically you begin the day by going into the office and meeting with the other members of the group you are assigned to. Special Agents and TFO’s are often times organized into groups that reflect what there focus is (e.g., clan labs, financial crimes, pipeline investigations, etc.). You then move on to whatever assignment you might be working at the moment.

Mary: All of us watch CSI and I’ve heard from a reliable source that is all television. Can you tell us what really happens at a crime scene?

Chris: Well, what does not happen is the crime scene tech running the scene, or conducting an investigation, or carrying a firearm, or arresting suspects, as represented on CSI. Typically, whichever officer is the assigned Case Agent will run the scene which entails making sure everything is handled appropriately. For example: ensures the scene is safe and secure; ensures anyone needing medical attention receives it; the scene is photographed and diagramed (if necessary); all evidence that is collected is photographed prior to collection; assigns one officer as the finder who documents, collects, and bags all evidence collected; any drugs collected are field tested; a record is kept of everyone who enters the crime scene; any evidence needing to go to the crime lab is properly packaged and sent; the appropriate property reports are completed; and, all evidence collected is turned into the evidence custodian in a timely manner. What’s important here, and the reason for all of the documentation, is to maintain a clear chain of custody for all evidence collected. The CSI staff would assist the Case Agent with the above-mentioned activities.

Mary: Can you tell us what the procedure is when interviewing a suspect? Is it always done at the station?

Chris: No, not all interviews are conducted in the office. Depending on the situation it could be conducted somewhere in the field if necessary. The office is usually preferable for the simple reason that we control the environment, which can provide an advantage. Also, it is easier to make a record of the interview if it is conducted in the office. One of your first consideration is conducting an interview of a criminal suspect is whether or not you need to issue a Miranda warning. Contrary to popular belief this is rarely, if ever, issued at the moment of the arrest, and if it is given improperly can hinder your investigation. What’s important to remember is the standard for issuing a Miranda warning (i.e., advising someone of their constitutional rights) is if you are going to interrogate them (i.e., ask them incriminating questions) AND they are in custody (i.e., not free to leave). If BOTH of these conditions are not present it is not necessary to issue a Miranda warning. The reason this is important is this: if you prematurely advise someone of their rights (say at the time of arrest) and they ask for an attorney, you cannot EVER speak to them about this case again without their attorney present. Enough about constitutional law.

Another consideration in an interview is whether or not you record the interview. Some do, some don’t. I prefer to make an audio and video recording of MOST interviews, if feasible, for the obvious reason of having a record of the statements made by me and the suspect.

A final consideration could be the setting of the room, both for strategy and security. For instance I have, in the past, put VHS tapes or file folders full of paper next to me during an interview to give the suspect the impression that I know more about the case than I do. Also, I typically sit with my back to the door of the interview room in case I need to get out, or keep the suspect in.

Do you do all night stake outs? Or is that just a television thing? If you do, what is it really like?

Yes, during some in lengthy and complex drug investigations I often worked regular nights conducting surveillance. The simple reason is that most drug dealers do their business at odd hours and you need to be in place to witness, and document, meetings and drug transactions whenever they occur. Also, I have done this for fugitive investigations as well if I am watching a residence where I suspect a fugitive will show up. Crooks keep odd hours and sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

Mary: What is the procedure to investigate a tip? If someone called to say their neighbor was running a Meth lab or something like that, or do you even receive tips like that?

Chris: We do occasionally receive tips like this and the typical response is to conduct a follow up interview and then establish surveillance in an effort to corroborate the information provided.

Mary: Once you determine there is something going on at a place, home or business involving drugs, what is the procedure for a drug bust? Step by step from beginning to finish.

Chris: Typically, you try to get someone into the operation, whether it is a confidential informant (CI) or an undercover officer (UC). By this I mean you arrange for the CI to introduce the UC to the individuals selling the drugs so that the UC can begin making purchases. This is usually done by arresting an individual involved in the operation and then turning them to work for you in exchange for not being prosecuted. Once the UC is introduced you make as buys as long as possible while conducting surveillance in several different manners. Once you have made enough buys you can try and move up the chain by arresting this person and then turning them. If not, you can write a search warrant, using your previous drug buys for your probable cause, for the target’s home or business, or both, and then go in and make your arrests and seize your evidence. Serving no-knock search warrants have made some of the most exciting moments of my career as drug dealers are often armed and like to run from the police.

Mary: I’m sure that there are many questions that I will think of after I send this to you, and many questions that others would love for you to answer. Can you think of an area of your work that may be of interest to a suspense author when writing his/her stories?

Chris: All of the above.

As professional authors we all strive for accuracy in our work and I’d like to thank you, Christopher Lane for taking time to answer my Questions!


Anita Clenney said…
Great interview, Mary. Thanks for posting it. I feel law enforcement stuff is one area--actually there are many--that I'm really not up to speed on. This was very helpful.
Mary Martinez said…
I'm glad you enjoyed it. I read it often for reference.
Liz Lipperman said…
Fabulous interview, Mary. I was especially interested on his take on Mirandizing suspects. It makes sense the way he explained it.

Thank him for me the next time you're in contact with him.

Happy Easter, y'all!

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