Careers in Law Enforcement
The U.S. Department of Justice recently reported that almost 1.1 million dedicated men and women now serve in local and state law enforcement agencies, including more than 765,000 sworn police officers. This represents a ratio of one state or local law enforcement official to every 400 U.S. residents. As the number of law enforcement jobs has increased in recent years, new opportunities have surfaced for those interested in becoming police officers, deputy sheriffs and state troopers.
While most police officers, deputy sheriffs and state troopers provide the vital law enforcement services necessary to keep criminals off the streets, there are also a wide variety of specialized careers for those who would like to serve in the most elite law enforcement units. This means that in addition to the traffic enforcement, 911 response and criminal investigations that are critical to keeping residents and motorists safe, there are also law enforcement units dedicated to counterterrorism, SWAT, K-9 handling, digital forensics, and extreme environments.
State Law Enforcement Agencies
The position of law enforcement agencies within each state’s governmental structure influences the duties of its personnel. As such, a state trooper is likely to have broader powers and responsibilities than a local police officer. Although local police departments typically yield to county and state agencies, there are a number of metropolitan police departments across the country that take the lead in major operations and investigations. Some states have opted to give municipal police departments these broader powers because their officers often have a greater level of familiarity with the street grid and culture of the municipalities they patrol.
City police departments are city-specific law enforcement agencies. These organizations may enforce laws derived from local statutes as well as those that originate from the state and national level. Their jurisdictions are usually limited to county or city boundaries.
State troopers and state police typically enforce laws on the roadways of a state, and may also provide local law enforcement services in some jurisdictions. These organizations benefit from larger budgets that allow for more specialized units and advanced officer training. These agencies often oversee investigations that involve criminal activities taking place across the state, and may request the assistance of local police departments.
Sheriff’s officers and deputies may provide law enforcement services throughout a particular county, a broader multi-county region within a state, or they may just serve certain unincorporated areas not patrolled by municipal police officers. The role of the deputy sheriff can vary depending on the state and local law enforcement hierarchy, but in most counties the sheriff’s department is responsible for managing local jails and facilitating prisoner transports.
Specialized Law Enforcement Jobs
Law enforcement organizations with plenty of resources often delegate unique responsibilities to specialized departments. These units may include enforcement of a specific set of laws that could pertain to everything from financial crimes to narcotics trafficking, or they may be utilized in certain specialized capacities. One of the most prevalent is the Special Weapons and Tactics Units (SWAT) that many police organizations have developed to respond to situations that present the potential for extreme violence. Another common unit is the bomb disposal unit, which utilizes robots and specific training to identify and neutralize explosive devices.
Law enforcement agencies need to be able to respond to any type of situation at a moment’s notice. Because of this, many specialized law enforcement jobs are only available to dedicated and volunteer personnel who have received specialized training designed to prepare them to respond decisively and effectively. These specialized personnel perform more typical law enforcement duties most of the time and only utilize their advanced training when a situation arises. These types of law enforcement jobs include everything from hostage negotiations to dignitary and special event security.