Drug enforcement agency beefs up front line troops in Chicago

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The DEA is down 500 agents nationally, says the new special agent-in-charge of the Chicago office. (WLS)

As overdose deaths soar, the federal agency in charge of drug enforcement is getting more than a few good men and women to join the fight in Chicago and the suburbs.

The Drug Enforcement Administration field office in Chicago recently asked DEA officials in Washington for 16 new special agents to jump on the front lines in the war on drugs, the ABC7 I-Team has learned.

"We are in the middle of an opioid crisis right, we need more agents," said Brian McKnight the new special agent in charge of DEA Chicago.

"Chicago could use another 50 special agents," McKnight said in an exclusive interview with the I-Team.

According to DEA officials, the request for 16 additional agents was quickly granted by the agency's headquarters and financing for the positions is being finalized.

The new agents coming to Chicago will be from other field offices and will include new recruits just out of the training academy in Virginia.

According to the DEA, in recent years nearly 2,000 agents have come through the 18-week Basic Agent Training Program, but nationwide the agency is still in need of about 500 sworn personnel, according to McKnight. Federal budget cuts and an average 200 agent retirements each year have left the agency hurting for badge and gun-carrying personnel, McKnight said.

DEA data reveal that the average age of new agents is 30. Approximately 60 percent of all trainees arrive at the academy with prior law enforcement experience, while 30 percent come from a military background. In addition DEA officials say the majority of students have bachelor degrees and nearly 20 percent have some post-graduate educational experience.

Chicago, where heroin, fentanyl and prescription opioid abuse has surged in the past three years, is in dire need of more federal drug agents, officials say. The ongoing war on drugs is a labor intensive fight. The agency's most recent intelligence report reveals Chicago is up in every category of illicit drug availability and abuse. Federal investigators say "some Chicago street gangs have adapted to technology by using GPSs to track their drug shipments."
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