One Officer’s Story: Richard Oakley

Assistant Special Agent in Charge, US Justice/Drug Enforcement Administration

Richard T. Oakley

Richard T. Oakley grew up in Somerville, New Jersey, and befriended a couple of members of the hometown police department. At the age of 24, he joined the New Brunswick (NJ) Police Department in September 1967 and attended the New Jersey State Police Academy at Sea Girt.
Oakley was assigned to the police department’s patrol division with a starting salary of $5,000 per year and was later promoted to the rank of Detective in the Narcotics and Homicide Division. “Homicide turned out to be the most challenging of my assignments, and the most costly emotionally” says Oakley.
Policing in 1967 was very difficult for minorities. According to Oakley, the black community felt that he had betrayed them; many police departments resisted hiring black officers. “It was not unusual to hear racial slurs over the radio or find racial notes placed on your locker,” he says. “You also had to submit a photo with your application. This was one way to weed out applicants, a practice that would later become unconstitutional.”
In 1972, Oakley joined the Union County (NJ) Prosecutor’s Office as a Narcotics Investigator with the Narcotic Strike Force in West Field (NJ). He worked undercover in several DEA narcotics investigations. At that time, Oakley says the DEA did not have any black agents in the area. Oakley went on to become a Special Agent, undergoing 15 weeks of basic training in Washington, DC, and Quantico, Virginia before spending time in the New York and Newark Field Divisions. Eventually, he started working undercover in two Newark heroin smuggling organizations.
On June 26, 1980, his cover was blown when one of the organizations discovered he  was a DEA Agent. “Once we got into the park, he (the suspect) told me to park the vehicle and he got out. He returned in a few minutes, and I could see that his hands were dirty.” I asked him, “What’s going on? You got people here? What’s up?” He said “no, follow me” and headed down an embankment. “He turned and I could see a Rohm, nickel-plated, brake open 22 caliber pistol in his hand. He fired the first shot which went past my ear, the second shot misfired. I started to run in a zig-zag pattern. Not one of his shots struck me.”
The suspect was apprehended and sentenced to 10 years in Danbury Federal Prison.
In November of 1987, Oakley was promoted to Supervisory Special Agent where he supervised a team of 12 agents in the San Francisco (CA) Field Division, He later transferred to headquarters in Arlington, Virginia where he held several positions including Chief of the Policy and Procedure Unit, Special Assistant to the Deputy Administrator for Operations, Special Assistant to the Administrator of DEA, and finally, Secretary of the DEA Career Board. His advice to anyone contemplating a career in law enforcement is to “go into it with the right mindset. Understand that some people will resist your commands, but you should remain the professional that you are and resist the temptation to be pulled in the fray. Understand the laws that you are upholding. Make sure you fully understand the use of deadly force. Understand that the person you are today will change.”

Read Officer Oakley’s story in his own words.