Law Enforcement Overview for Police Officer Exam (page 2)
By now, you probably know more about policing than you did when you first decided to select it as your career. You also probably have gathered that it is a complicated field that defies easy description. In fact, in addition to the many roles filled by police, there are many different types of agencies where you can put your skills to use. In the United States, there are more police agencies than anywhere else in the world, and there are many different types of agencies that we call "police." The major categories of police agencies include local police; county police; county sheriffs' offices; state police; special jurisdiction police (which might include airports, parks, transit systems, and campus and school districts), or even more specialized agencies enforcing professional licensing regulations. These last agencies are distinct from federal law enforcement, which is a different category altogether with different requirements and application procedures. There are also parts of the country where civilian agencies employ a small number of police or where city or county prosecutors employ their own law enforcement personnel.
Law enforcement is generally divided into federal (which is not included in this book) and state and local, which includes municipal police, county police, sheriffs' offices, special jurisdiction agencies, and constable/marshal agencies. Even the term "law enforcement" can be confusing, because for many people the term expands to include private security officers and others who provide enforcement services but are not police officers. However, when individuals refer to "police" or "police officers" they usually mean members of law enforcement agencies with full powers of arrest and the right to carry a firearm.
The term "police department" is usually reserved for state and local agencies. Although it may it may seem hard to believe, there are almost 18,000 such state and local agencies around the country. They range in size from the New York City Police Department (NYPD)—with a sworn officer staff complement that has recently been reduced to "only" 35,000 compared to about 40,000 in 2001—to departments of only one officer. According to figures published in 2007 by the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2004 (the latest year for which complete figures were available), state and local law enforcement agencies employed more than one million people on a full-time basis, about 750,000 of whom were sworn officers. These figures translate into about one sworn law enforcement officer for every 400 to 500 people in the nation. However, different jurisdictions have very different ratios of police to population. Although it might seem logical that cities with more crime try to have a lower ratio (meaning more police per citizen) the ratio is more likely influenced by a jurisdiction's ability to fund a particular size police department in relationship to other requirements. The result is often that cities with less crime and a higher tax base will have more officers per capita than a poorer, more crime-prone jurisdiction.
Although more than 93,000 sworn full-time officers work for the ten largest police departments, there are more than 10,000 police departments with ten or fewer employees. And more than 85 percent of U.S. police departments have 25 or fewer officers, a figure that includes all ranks within those departments. Although they are located in rural areas and serve small communities, their law enforcement problems may be large. Many rural areas are faced with serious violence stemming from methamphetamine labs and gang violence. Additionally, guns are common and officers are spread far apart, with available backup often 100 miles away. Officers in rural communities also face the stress of having to police among their friends and families without being able to rely on the benefits of maintaining a psychological distance from victims and suspects—and a physical distance by being able to live away from the communities they police.
At the other extreme are the urban police departments that receive the most media attention (and where TV dramas most often tend to be set). They are portrayed as representative of U.S. policing, but they certainly are not. The sizes of even the large departments vary considerably. Following the NYPD is the Chicago Police Department, which is not even half as large with slightly more than 13,000 sworn employees. The next largest municipal agencies are Los Angeles (about 9,000), Philadelphia (more than 6,800), and Houston (about 5,000). About one of every six full-time local police officers works for one of these five largest agencies.
County Sheriffs' Offices and County Police Departments
If your interests are in county law enforcement, there are two very different types of agencies for you to consider—county sheriffs' offices or county police departments. The stereotypical view of rural sheriffs' offices that was portrayed in such early TV shows as "The Andy Griffith Show" is not at all realistic. From 1960 to 1968, Andy played the good-natured sheriff of Mayberry; his Aunt Bee and small son, Opie, spent as much time in the office as he did and seemed to be as involved in law enforcement as he and his comical deputy Barney Fife. The truth, though, is somewhat different.
There are about 3,000 sheriffs' offices in the United States, almost all led by an elected county sheriff. Three states (Alaska, Connecticut, and Hawaii) and the District of Columbia are the only areas of the United States that do not elect or appoint sheriffs. Sheriffs' offices pre-date police departments; the office of sheriff is the oldest law enforcement position in the nation. The vast majority of sheriffs' offices have some patrol functions similar to police departments, but many concentrate more of their efforts on civil matters. Where deputies (the entry-level rank equivalent to police officers) do patrol, it is generally in the unincorporated areas of a county or in areas where there are no or very small local police departments. Since deputies have countywide jurisdiction, they may routinely assist or work alongside town police or may wait to be called for assistance. In addition, deputies have a number of non-patrol responsibilities: They serve criminal and civil court documents including summonses and subpoenas, maintain county jails, and provide court security.
In 2004, about 11% of sheriffs' office employed at least 100 sworn personnel and only a dozen employed more than 1,000 officers. But, like police departments, their sizes range considerably. The largest sheriff 's department, in Los Angeles County, employed more than 8,000 full-time sworn personnel. The next four largest agencies were Cook County (IL), with about 5,500 officers; Broward County (FL), with about 3,000; Harris County (TX), with about 2,500; and Orange County (CA), with just over 2,000. They are also representative of the different roles of sheriffs' offices; only about 500 of Cook County's deputies patrol the unincorporated areas of the county (a highly urbanized one in which Chicago is located), while the Broward County Sheriff 's Office operates very much like a large, full-service police department, with marine, airborne, and airport units and a vast array of specialist positions. Regardless of size of their departments, sheriffs, particularly in the south and west, are considered the chief law enforcement officers of their counties and are generally treated with deference by area police chiefs.
County police departments are completely different from county sheriffs' offices. They are more similar to local police departments than to sheriffs' offices but for reasons of geographic or local political development, the country has absorbed many traditional local policing functions. Two of the five largest county police agencies are in New York; Suffolk County (more than 2,500 officers) and Nassau County (smaller than Suffolk by only about 100 officers). The other three are Miami-Dade County, FL (about 3,000 officers), Las Vegas-Clark County, NV (about just under 2,700 officers), and Baltimore County, MD (about 1,800 officers). Because a number of county departments are located in some of the fastest growing portions of the nation, if you live in their jurisdictions or are willing to consider relocating for a position, you should investigate these departments, which may offer you opportunities you had not considered.
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