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Types of Law Enforcement Agencies

Police officer handing little girl a teddy bear

There are many different types of law enforcement agencies, from small town police departments to large federal agencies. The types of jobs available will depend on the type of agency, its mission, size, and jurisdiction. These are important considerations when selecting the agency that is right for you and your interests.

Federal Law Enforcement Agencies

There are 65 federal agencies and 27 offices of inspector general that employ full time personnel authorized to make arrests and carry firearms. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2004 the largest employers of Federal officers were U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Federal Bureau of Prisons, the FBI, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, each with over 10,000 officers. Federal officers’ duties include police response and patrol, criminal investigation and enforcement, inspections, security and protection, court operations, and corrections.

State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies

There are more than 17,000 state and local law enforcement agencies in the United States, ranging in size from one officer to more than 30,000. Many of these are municipal police departments operated by local governments, but there are actually several types of law enforcement agencies.

Transit Officer with police dog talking with lady
  • Local Police includes municipal, county, tribal, and regional police that derive authority from the local governing body that created it. The primary purpose is to uphold the laws of the jurisdiction, provide patrol, and investigate local crimes.
  • State Police / Highway Patrol – State police often perform police duties to include highway patrol and statewide investigations. Some states have only highway patrol with investigative functions covered by a separate entity such as a state bureau of investigation. State police assist local police with investigations and emergencies that extend beyond the resources and jurisdictional boundaries of the local agency.
  • Special Jurisdiction Police – Officers for special jurisdictions provide police services for defined entities or areas within another jurisdiction. These include parks, schools, transportation assets (e.g., airports, subways), hospitals, housing authorities, and government buildings. Special jurisdiction police are generally full-service departments, offering the same services as local police.
  • Deputy Sheriffs – Generally sheriff’s offices are granted authority by the state to enforce state law at the local county level. Deputies commonly run the local jail, serve warrants and court summons, and respond to calls for service in areas outside local police jurisdictions.

Law Enforcement Accreditation

LAW WNFORCEMENT ACCREDITATION

While not a type of law enforcement agency, one designation to look for when evaluating departments is CALEA Accreditation.

CALEA, which stands for the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, is the international authority on law enforcement standards.  The Commission offers several prestigious credentialing programs for public safety agencies, including Law Enforcement, Public Safety Communications, and Public Safety Training Academy Accreditation.

CALEA Law Enforcement Accreditation is a voluntary program open to all types of law enforcement agencies. Accreditation involves the systematic review of an agency’s policies and procedures against CALEA’s internationally accepted Standards for Law Enforcement Agencies©. These standards reflect the current thinking and experience of law enforcement practitioners and researchers, and are considered benchmarks for modern law enforcement agencies. 

There are currently over 800 law enforcement agencies enrolled in the CALEA Law Enforcement Accreditation Program and over 600 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. are accredited.

For more information on CALEA, or to find a list of accredited agencies, visit www.calea.org.