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Law Enforcement Agencies


In the United States, there are many facets of law enforcement, different agencies, jurisdictions, and roles. Each of these agencies has different advantages for careers in law enforcement. There are over 17,000 different law enforcement agencies and it’s important for prospective applicants looking for careers in law enforcement to understand the differences between these agencies.

Law enforcement agencies are divided by jurisdiction with federal, state, county, and city (municipal) agencies. The mission of all these agencies is to maintain order, enforce laws, and provide service.

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Major federal law enforcement agencies include:

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation commonly known as FBI and possesses jurisdiction across the United States. The FBI generally focuses on domestic threats from terrorist groups, criminal enterprises, foreign intelligence services, and probes into corruption of state, county, and city law enforcement.
  • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives commonly known as the ATF. They specialize in combating and investigating trafficking of firearms, illegal use of explosives, arson, bombings, acts of terrorism, and illegal use of alcohol and tobacco products.
  • Department of Homeland Security works hard to defeat and deter threats of terrorism on the United States homeland. Their core mission is to prevent terrorism and enhance security, manage U.S. borders, enforce and administer immigration laws, safeguard and secure cyberspace, and ensure resilience to disaster.
  • United States Border Patrol is a component of the Department of Homeland Security. This agency is tasked with protecting and patrolling United States borders and crossings, which include 19,000 miles of land.
  • United States Marshals are the nation’s oldest law enforcement agency. They are tasked with judicial security, prisoner services, asset forfeiture, witness security, transporting prisoners, and investigating fugitives.
  • Department of Defense commonly know as Military Police for various branches. They enforce articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which governs military personnel.
  • USDA Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigation protects natural resources and property within the authority and jurisdiction of the Forest Service.

Federal law enforcement careers have great opportunity for advancement.  It is important to know all federal employees’ salary structures of the GS structure. They include pay increases, depending on location and cost of living. The pay structure is based on experience, education, and seniority. A position with federal law enforcement includes good benefits and job security. Also these positions usually require a four-year degree, and there’s a good chance that relocation may be required. Training for these positions is on site at various training centers across the United States.

State law enforcement agencies are commonly referred to as Highway Patrol, State Troopers, and State Police. State police have a larger budget and assets to patrol highways throughout the state. They also assist smaller law enforcement agencies that do not possess capabilities like SWAT teams and bomb squads. Employment with these state law enforcement agencies may also require relocation. There are also great opportunities for advancement. Training is centrally located at the State Police Academy somewhere in the state.

County law enforcement agencies or county sheriff’s departments patrol rural areas as well as the roads, highways, and cities (in respective county). These agencies also run county jails and corrections. Sheriff’s departments allow for a good promotion structure when departments are large enough. Applying for a county position ensures that relocation is not necessary if applicants live in the county they are applying to. Training academies will either be sponsored by the county itself, held locally, or at a state-level police academies. County positions offer good benefits and job security.

Police departments’ municipal law enforcement makes up the greatest number of law enforcement officers in the United States. Due to the high number of cities and the fact that almost all cities have a police department, this usually is an applicant’s best chance of getting hired. Unless a police department is very large, police academies and training will be held at a centrally located academy somewhere in the state. Police officers have many opportunities in cities for special assignments and various training. Police departments tend to stay very active with many 911 calls, given the high density of population in cities and urban areas.

The world of law enforcement offers many exciting paths and career opportunities. Applicants can learn more by contacting the agency they are looking to apply to. Also, agency websites provide a wealth of information. Remember, whether you become a police officer, sheriff’s deputy, state trooper, or federal law enforcement officer, you are serving and protecting the citizens of your community and making a difference.


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