Law Enforcement Overview for Police Officer Exam (page 3)
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.
State Law Enforcement Agencies
Most of the officers employed with a particular state work for municipal and county agencies—the number of officers employed directly by highway patrol agencies and state police is considerably smaller. State police agencies employ slightly fewer than 60,000 full-time officers. For a number of reasons (some historical, some having to do with strenuous physical requirements, and some having to do with residential police academies in rural parts of their states), state police agencies have lower percentages of women and minority officers than other police agencies. Many, though, are actively recruiting to diversity their ranks.
There are two types of uniformed state law enforcement agencies. State police departments that combine patrol, investigation, and provide support services to local police departments are considered the centralized, full-service model of state policing. Highway patrol agencies, the most visible of the decentralized state police agencies, have more limited responsibilities, although they are rarely assigned only to traffic-related matters. States with a highway patrol rather than a full-service state police department generally have a non-uniformed statewide investigative agency with different responsibilities and selection standards than the state police departments or highway patrols. The scope of an agency's responsibilities is not necessarily related to its size. The largest state law enforcement agency is California's Highway Patrol, with about 7,000 officers. The two largest full-service state police departments are in the northeast; the New York State Police employs about 4,600 sworn officers and the Pennsylvania State Police about 4,200. Statewide uniformed agencies, whether full-service or highway patrol departments, generally have entry standards similar to local police but are very likely to place greater emphasis on physical agility and fitness.
Special Jurisdiction Police Agencies
Although they are far less well-known than state police, special jurisdiction police agencies employ almost as many officers. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), in 2004 there were more than 1,500 police agencies that served special geographic areas or had specialized enforcement responsibilities that together employed more than 85,000 people. The BJS groups these agencies into five categories; public buildings and facilities, natural resources and parks and recreation, transportation systems and facilities, criminal investigations, and special enforcement. The largest group of special enforcement police is the approximately 500 campus police departments serving four-year public institutions, which employ more than 10,000 officers nationwide. About 90% of these are armed, fully-sworn and trained police officers. Two-year colleges and public school districts employed about 5,000 additional officers.
Campus policing is a growing area of policing and has been particularly successful in attracting large numbers of women and minority candidates to its ranks, possibly because many colleges may be more actively working to diversity their work forces overall along with their student and staff populations. Public institutions are more likely to employ fully-commissioned police officers than are private colleges. Also, the larger the campus, the more likely the officers will have full police status, will be armed, and will have attended a state-certified police academy. Most campus departments have no more than 100 officers, but many are larger and better equipped than local police serving the campus' surrounding community.
Beginning in the 1990s, a number of campus police agencies developed their own Special Weapons and Tactical (SWAT) teams rather than rely on the local police. Today such specializations as SWAT, canine, bomb disposal, and other high-profile assignments are available in campus police departments, although there is still a focus on working closely with the college community, which provides considerable opportunities in crime prevention, alcohol, drug, and sexual assault prevention programs, and a variety of other community-based specialties. Campus police tend to recruit less aggressively than local police; if your interests lie in this area, check the websites of colleges whose departments interest you or try to schedule an appointment with the chief or deputy chief of a local college department to learn more about entering this field.
Transportation policing has also seen considerable growth, particularly since the September 11, 2001, and subsequent attacks on transit systems around the world showed many nations how vulnerable their transit arteries were. Approximately 9,000 officers are employed by about 130 agencies; most protect airports, but they also work for mass transit systems, maritime ports, and bridges and tunnels. Transportation police protect both people and property. The components of the transit system and the infrastructure are itself potential targets, and many transit agencies have developed specialized units that include community outreach, emergency response, and canine units for both drug and explosive detection, and they participate actively in area terrorist task forces. Like campus police, many transportation agency police departments do not recruit actively, although two of the largest ones in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan areas, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Police and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) Police, have selection processes that are similar to local police. If the transportation agencies in your area are small, consider requesting an interview to learn more about job opportunities.
Parks and recreation police departments are also quite varied; some are local but many are county or state agencies. These positions are particularly suited to those who enjoy being outdoors and who enjoy interacting with the public. Some may include overseeing licensing of hunting and fishing enthusiasts as well as enforcing seasonal or poaching regulations. Some involve more basic patrol of recreation facilities, which, in addition to parks, may include lakes, pools, beachfront, or any recreational facility that you can imagine.
Federal Law Enforcement
Although not the focus of this book, federal law enforcement is just as decentralized as the other areas of the profession. Some agencies are far better known than others, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Marshals Service and Secret Service, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), but there are more than 50 other federal law enforcement agencies, including a few with uniformed officers and some such as the Offices of Inspectors General that are heavily involved in fraud investigations. In total, almost 60,000 people work in some form of federal law enforcement. The majority—but not all—federal law enforcement agencies require applicants to have a four-year college degree, but other requirements may be similar to those explained here. If your interests are primarily in federal law enforcement, begin your employment search by visiting the websites of the agencies that interest you.
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