What Does The ATF Do? ATF Police Salary and Career Guide

Criminal Justice Career Guides

What Does The ATF Do?

ATF or ATFE means Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco. Firearms and Explosives. It is a federal agency which enforces and implements laws in US. It prevents the country from many unlawful, illegal and illiot acts ensuring peace and security of country by preventing illegal use, storage, making, buying and selling of harmful drugs and weapons. Thus we can say that function of ATF Police is peace maintenance, security and protection of the state from unlawful and illegal acts, terrorism, and to inculcate a sense of trust and patriotism in citizens.

Purpose Of ATF Police Formation:

After World war one, US was struggling against drug addiction and alcohol consumption. For this purpose they need a proper channel and pathway to implement strict rules for forbidding such acts in the society and hinder the way of criminals and dismantling of dangerous gangs. It was founded by the United States Congress in July 1, 1972. In start it had 3829 employees, including 1662 special agents and 826 industry operations investigators. Its budget was $74 million. In 2018, ATF had 5101 employees including 2630 special agents and 842 industry operations investigators. Its headquarter is in Washington, DC, US. In addition to the creation of Department of Homeland security, the US government shifted ATF from Department of treasury to the Department of Justice. ATF spends about $1306 in 2017 which increased 5.3% for improving their work quality.


Some Basic Functions Of the ATF Are:

  • Maintain law and order
  • Prohibit unlawful acts such as buying, selling and manufacturing of illegal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco.
  • Illegal usage and trafficking of firearms
  • It is responsible for prohibition of terrorism by observing and stopping acts of arsons and bombings.
  • It targets, identifies and dismantle liquor and contraband tobacco in interstate commerce, it seizes an denies their assess, assets and funding.
  • Identifies and dismantles criminal groups and organizations. The motto of ATF is fairness, and respect for the worth, dignity and diversity of all people.
  • Reduce loss from tax revenues caused by contraband alcohol and tobacco trafficking.

Explosives Control:

ATF deals with fires and explosives to ensure security of public. ATF  Police also investigates fires that involve more than $1 million in losses, injury or death of a firefighter or a policeman where case is unclear and needs special concerns. They also play a vital role in educating and regulating explosive industries that how to buy, sell, preserve, import and store their materials and products so that dangerous side effects and accidents may not occur. In this way ATF is Nation’s sole agency ensuring protection of the general public gaining a reputable position and highest level of trust from United States due to its efficiency, assistance, expertise and provision of services.

Drug Control:

ATF is meant to investigate, inquire and research the sources and issues regarding drug manufacturing, buying, selling, transport and storage. They are responsible for ensuring and getting in time tax payment from drug manufacturing industries. They play its role in ensuring the implementation of an important plan that is Contraband Cigarette Trafficking (CCT) which prohibits anyone to buy more than 10,000 cigarettes without permission and its proof from official of State cigarette tax payment.

How Does The ATF Enforce Laws?

Right now, ATF is working independently but sometimes it may have partnerships for its better functioning. The Bureau trains and supports its Federal, State, local and international law enforcement partners and works primarily in 23 field divisions across 50 States. It has foreign offices in Mexico, Canada, Colombia, and France. As ATF agents and officers have to deal with sensitive issues they need in time actions so they are allowed to arrest anyone they want anywhere and at anytime for the purpose of carrying out the inspections and investigations.

ATF Requirements And Their Salaries:

Candidates are free to apply for the job and their final selection is ensured by special appointing authorities. It is very important for a candidate to be competent and have physical and mental strength for the selection as criterion of selection is quite tough. Candidates applying for the job should have following qualities:-

  • A US citizen
  • Possess automobile operator license
  • Take and pass special ATF test
  • Take and pass physical tests
  • BMI between 18.5-24.9
  • Pass drug test
  • Age must be 21 to 31 years old

How to Become an Agent

The requirements are rigorous if you want to be an ATF agent, but you will need to endure a series of tests and checks to become eligible on top of the educational demands. Here are the things you need to prepare for and expect:

  • You must be a US citizen with a valid driver’s license and be between 21 and 37 years of age.


  • You must obtain a 4-year bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related criminal justice degree. Online bachelor’s degrees are available from accredited schools like Ashford or Kaplan University. An alternative is having 3 years of prior law enforcement experience, or a combination of experience and appropriate formal education.

Expect a series of tests to be conducted:   

  • Physical endurance exam
  • Drug test
  • Medical check
  • Polygraph test
  • Background check


  • Finally, you will need to pass a face to face interview to be eligible to be trained for the job.

Help Keep your Country Safe from Terrorism and Illegal Weapons as an ATF Agent

An ATF agent is the career choice for those who want to get involved in criminal investigations by performing evidence searches, interviewing witnesses, analysing data and filling out reports. An ATF officer must have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or the equivalent in law enforcement experience to be eligible.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives is an invaluable federal agency with which you can work as an ATF agent. An agent needs to be meticulous, flexible, detail-oriented and available to travel around the country if needed. It is a challenging position, but you will feel gratified knowing that you play a vital role in catching criminals, enforcing the law and keeping people safe.

ATF Agent Base Annual Salary Range 

$34,865 (GS grade 5, Step 1) to $57,093 (GS grade 9, Step 10)  Note: This salary range does not include the 25% law enforcement availability pay (LEAP) or the locality pay.

ATF agents are capable of making $87,130 annually.

What And Where Is  The ATF Academy?

ATF National Academy is at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centre in GLYNCO . These professionals train individuals how to fight against crimes and protect their general public. They are taught how to use weapons and are physically trained as well.

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Can ATF Agents Make Arrests?

ATF agents are allowed to enforce any of the criminal, seizures, or forfeiture provisions of the laws of US. They can arrest or kill any criminal following related rules. ATF special agents are based either in the main headquarters in Washington or in local offices. They travel a lot with respect to their assigned tasks.

Can ATF Make Laws?

ATF does not make and enforce laws directly but can suggest and form set of rules and regulations. They can then consult general public and federal agencies for its implementation.

ATF And Homeland Security :

In 2003, ATF and its law enforcement functions were transferred under the Homeland security bill to the Department of justice. So, that ATF can work with other security systems of US to combat terrorism and protect general public from criminal activities and provide weapon free environment.

ATF And Their Effectiveness:

ATF has done a lot of work in maintaining law and order and gained very well reputation regarding their services and achievements. They are playing vital role in reducing drug addictions and criminal activities. No US citizen can deny their role in peace maintenance.

Achievements Of  The ATF:

In 2014, Four ATF agents played an important role in a Houston explosives investigation. They were awarded for their extraordinary contribution to ATF in the area of assest forfeiture.

A soap factory worker’s killer was caught and investigated by ATF and as a result received 60 years of in prison.

Detroit homicide suspect sentenced to life in prison when an unknown suspect shot a victim ata gas station.

Houston dollar store robber receives 45 years of imprisonment.

Omaha Gang member receives 10 years sentence in prison due to misuse of weapons and firearms.

Serial robber receives 178416 years in prison.

Job Duties

In a nutshell, an ATF agent is responsible for all violations of laws concerning alcohol, tobacco or firearms. They will investigate tax or registration violations, ensure the legal use of all alcohol and firearms, and work with lawyers and other law enforcement agents to prepare a case and testify in court.

Their daily tasks are about investigating and resolving cases, so they involve gathering evidence, analysing it in labs, getting search warrants and writing up investigative case reports. Additional tasks could include being part of a surveillance team, interviewing witnesses and being part of a raid.

The duties vary so much that it depends on the specific case they are investigating or at what level they join a case to determine the tasks they will need to perform. Therefore, an ATF agent needs to be ready for anything and quick to jump on board and assist in any investigation.


Professional Prospects

The ATF government website lists an ATF agent’s average annual salary range between $32,000 and $42,000. Additional bonuses can be added to the salary, like the Law Enforcement Availability Pay, health benefits, overtime, locality pay, and paid vacations that substantially add to the salary.

There are also great opportunities for advancement to higher classes and the chance to learn foreign languages with their language incentive program. It is one of the great careers in criminal justice to consider, but competition is high, and the projection for the field to increase is slightly over the next 5 years.

That being said, the Department of Justice, to which the ATF belongs, employs about 5500 people and 2500 are ATF agents, so there are many career positions. If becoming an ATF agent is your goal, make sure to get the proper educational requirements, keep a clean record and get all the experience and credentials possible to put your name on top of the list.

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Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHB)

Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance (FEGLI)

Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)

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