How to Become an ATF Agent in Michigan

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF and sometimes referred to as ATFE) is highly active in Michigan, with dozens of special agents working out of the following Field Offices:

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  • Detroit
  • Ann Arbor
  • Flint
  • Grand Rapids

ATF special agents are renowned for their expertise in crimes involving arson and explosives.  They frequently partner with agents from other law enforcement agencies to solve these types of crimes.  In addition, these special agents investigate crimes that involve firearms, particularly those tied to career criminals and drug cartels.

Requirements for Becoming an ATF Agent in Michigan

In addition to meeting the basic requirements for becoming a federal law enforcement officer, the ATF requires its applicants to have a specialized law enforcement background or to have a high degree of education.  Those seeking careers as special agents for the ATF can apply at several different grades:  GL-5, GL-7, or GL-9.

Specialized Experience – Applicants are considered qualified to apply for ATF positions at the GL-5 level if they have one of the following:

  • Three years of progressively responsible experience
    • One year must have been doing work equivalent to the GL-4 level
      • This must have done work that demonstrated an ability to investigate crimes or have a law enforcement background that involves laws that relate to criminal violations


  • General experience as uniformed law enforcement officer performing arrests of the following types:
    • Misdemeanors
    • Traffic violations
    • Comparable offenses


  • Work experience with one of the following major duties:
    • Preventing crimes
    • Guarding and protecting property
    • Performing legal research

The agency requires GL-7 applicants to have at least a year of specialized work experience that is equivalent to the GL-5 level.  This includes having done the following types of law enforcement work:

  • Investigating crimes using basic investigative techniques
  • Using a variety of means to gather and analyze evidence
  • Participating in interviews
  • Giving government testimony to courts of grand juries
  • Preparing parts of case reports

GL-9 applicants are required to have a greater level of expertise equivalent to the GL-7 grade level.  They must have worked for at least a year full-time at this level.  Performing investigative work counts towards fulfilling this requirement.  This includes investigating accounting or computerized business systems.

Educational Requirement – Applicants who seek ATF jobs and do not have prior law enforcement experience can qualify with a bachelor’s degree or higher, depending on the grade level.  A bachelor’s degree in any field will qualify applicants for the GL-5 level.

To apply for the higher grades, applicants must have studied in one of the following fields or one that is closely related:

  • Political science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Criminal justice

GL-7 applicants must have either a full year of graduate work in one of these fields or have performed at a high level when they obtained their bachelor’s degree in such a field.  Applicants for GL-9 positions must have a graduate degree in one of these fields, two years of graduate study, a J.D., or an LL.B. degree.

The ATF will consider a mixture of education and experience to meet the requirements to apply for positions as special agents.

ATF Special Agent Training

New hires to the ATF take part in two phases of training.  The first is the Criminal Investigators Training Program (CITP).  It is provided by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia.

The classes consist of a mix of ATF students and those from other federal agencies.  This course trains students to conduct criminal investigations.  It provides academic training such as learning federal court procedures along with specialized techniques such as handcuffing, using firearms, and performing surveillance.

After passing this course, students move onto Special Agent Basic Training (SABT) at the ATF National Academy.  In addition to learning such law enforcement basics as writing reports and interviewing techniques, students learn specific skills that they will use as ATF agents.  This includes the following:

  • Identifying firearms and ammunition
  • Trafficking in firearms
  • Investigation the diversion of alcohol and tobacco
  • Investigating cases of fire, arson, and explosives


High Profile ATF Cases in Michigan

In partnership with other law enforcement agencies, ATF special agents in Michigan have used their expertise to take violent criminals off the streets.

Involvement in the Detroit One Program – The ATF is part of a partnership between a number of law enforcement agencies to reduce the number of murders and other violent crime in Detroit.  ATF special agents investigated a group of gang members that used arson as a technique to create stash houses.  Three brothers used a number of teenagers and young men to distribute marijuana and prescription pills and gave them access to firearms.  The brothers were indicted in 2013.

The Culmination of Operation Holiday Express – The ATF and the Lansing Police Department led a nearly ten year investigation into the trafficking of thousands of kilograms of cocaine.  The drugs were transported from Michigan to California for distribution throughout Eastern and Western Michigan.

The case started with the bust of a street level crack dealer and led to the dismantling of two drug trafficking organizations that had generated over $176 million in proceeds.  The culmination of the case came in 2013 with an 11 year sentence for the ringleader—a resident of Gardena, California.

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