ATF Criminal Investigator Description

Like Special Agents in other federal law enforcement agencies, the ATF version is the workhorse of the organization. ATF Special Agents perform a variety of investigative, enforcement, tactical and national security duties which curtail crime and enhance the defensive posture of the United States. However, unlike their counterparts in other agencies, the ATF Special Agent is expected to perform his or her duties at the highest possible standards consistently throughout their careers. The ATF is considered one of the most effective in law enforcement, in large part due to the high caliber of its Special Agents.

With almost 2,400 Special Agents stationed throughout the U.S., the ATF is able to initiate an investigation into a crime, bombing, or terrorist incident almost immediately. While ATF agents possess broad knowledge of a wide range of law enforcement and national security issues, many of these Special Agents decide to specialize within a narrow field to develop expertise. Some ATF agents are primarily criminal investigators who collect evidence, interview witnesses and suspects and testify in criminal trials. These investigators also serve as crucial intelligence officers who can shed a light on criminal activities which can be traced to gangs or criminal groups operating in the U.S. or outside the country. The data that they collect is often invaluable to prosecutors, tactical teams and intelligence agencies.

While all ATF Special Agents possess the ability to apprehend and arrest suspects, there are specialized units within the ATF which conduct high risk operations. These Special Response Teams are among the nation’s most elite tactical units. Only the most highly qualified and physically fit Special Agents qualify for these elite teams. ATF Special Response Teams have taken the lead in numerous high profile operations including the Boston Marathon manhunt and the recent Navy Yard Shooting.

These SRT units normally conduct about 40 operations a year, including high profile arrests, fortified breaches and hostage situations. SRT’s also employ Special Agents who possess advanced medical training to treat personnel, victims and suspects in the field. One of the most honored programs in the ATF is the SRT canine program which uses highly trained dogs to search for explosives, detect hidden suspects, and even attack targets.

In order to improve public safety, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is also charged with dismantling gangs and criminal organizations that present a threat to American communities by transporting and distributing illegal firearms. One of the most important units on the front line of the anti-gang mission is the Violent Crime Impact Team (VCIT). VCIT’s are joint operations task forces with local, state and federal personnel led by ATF Special Agents. These task forces use traditional investigative techniques, high tech surveillance, and advanced analytical and tactical equipment to monitor, disrupt and prosecute criminals engaged in violent crime.

The ATF also has a strong international network of Special Agents which conducts multi-national and clandestine operations. Among the most high profile of these is Project Gunrunner which interdicts firearms traffic into the U.S. from Latin American countries. Due to the interrelatedness of gun trafficking and narcotics smuggling, the ATF is an important component of the federal government’s war on drugs.

Salary & Benefits

In 2013, entering ATF Special Agents were eligible for pay grades GL-5 through GL-9. This translates into a salary range from $34,173 up to $55,969. The promotion potential for Special Agents was up to GL-13, which has a salary range of $86,355 to $112,261. In addition to this basic salary ATF Special Agents also enjoyed numerous bonuses including Law Enforcement Availability Pay (LEAP) as well as locality pay. Locality pay adjust the base salary for the geographic assignment. Currently, locality pay can be between 14.16 and 35.15 percent of base salary. LEAP pay is a bonus conferred upon ATF Special Agents for overtime and off hours availability. The LEAP bonus is an additional 25 percent of base salary.

ATF Special Agents also receive numerous benefits including:

  • Between 13 and 26 vacation leave days annually as well as 13 sick days annually
  • Paid holidays
  • Subsidized health and life insurance plans
  • Thrift Savings Pans (Similar to 401k)
  • Federal Employee Retirement System. ATF Special Agents may retire after 20 years of service if over 50, or 25 years at any time.

ATF Special Agents also enjoy other benefits like tuition assistance, vision and dental, or health improvement programs which are optional.


ATF Jurisdiction & Investigative Priorities ATF Experience & Education Requirements