Collage of Michele Leonhart the Deputy Administrator

In anticipation of next week’s National Law Enforcement Exploring Conference, the staff at had a chance to sit down and speak with DEA Deputy Administrator Michele M. Leonhart about her experiences with the Explorers. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

DEA.GOV: Can you talk about how you became affiliated with Explorers?

ML: “I didn’t know anything about Law Enforcement Exploring when I was growing up. In high school, I knew I wanted to become a police officer. Had there been an Explorer post in my city, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have been the first one in line to sign up. So the first time I became involved with Exploring was in the early 1980’s when as a young DEA agent, I helped teach several posts in my home state of Minnesota about drugs, search warrants and the way we attack drug dealers and put them in jail.”

DEA.GOV: Have you continued to take part in Exploring events throughout your career?

ML: “I got very involved with the Explorers when I was in Minnesota. I became a role-player and judge in the national competitions. My first national competition was in 1984 at Ohio State University and I was immediately captivated by the experience. We learned very quickly that the Explorers look forward to the DEA Arrest and Search Competition, and DEA has become very popular with them ever since.”

DEA.GOV: What advice do you have for the Explorers attending the conference next week?

ML: “It’s only a week, but in that week Explorers should open their eyes to all of the possibilities. They should look outside their own departments to see what future career opportunities are available to them. For instance, before I was ever a DEA agent, I was a Baltimore Police Officer. I wouldn’t be the agent I am today had I not been a Baltimore Police Officer. And I would never have been a Baltimore Police Officer if I hadn’t opened my eyes and thought about all of my options. I asked myself a lot of tough questions like: Do I really have to live in Minnesota? Is there more out there for me? Explorers should meet as many people as possible from federal, state and local agencies during their week in Flagstaff.”

DEA.GOV: Can you talk about Explorers in the context of developing the experience into a professional law enforcement career?

ML: “You can’t help but recognize that with law enforcement it does not matter where you enter; it doesn’t matter if you end up being a federal agent or a deputy sheriff or a local police officer. It’s just making that decision to stay in law enforcement and following through with it that matters. Law Enforcement Exploring can be used as a stepping stone and it can really give young people a step up when employers are interviewing for a job. If Special Agent applicants mention in their hiring interview that they have been involved in Law Enforcement Exploring this means something to us. This shows us that they have dedicated themselves, at an early age, to the law enforcement mission. They are not just seeking a law enforcement job on a whim, or for the money, or because they just need to be employed. They are looking for a career.”

DEA.GOV: Do you have any advice for women seeking a career in law enforcement?

ML: “My advice to women seeking law enforcement careers is that the doors are wide open. I graduated from college in the 1970's and at the time there were very few women in the profession. Times have definitely changed and from my perspective there is no more exciting or rewarding career. I’d also like to say that women do just as good a job as men. The good part about DEA is that men and women do the same job. That’s actually one of the things I like about law enforcement – it doesn’t matter if you are a male or female. Once you put the uniform and the badge on, you are all equal.”

“Law Enforcement Exploring is more than just getting exposure to law enforcement. It teaches you leadership; it teaches you how to work with other people. Law enforcement is very much a team experience and Exploring is just the best preparation for a law enforcement career – male or female.”

Click here to learn more about Law Enforcement Exploring and their 2006 National Conference.