Special Jurisdiction Law Enforcement Agencies

Updated on Aug 4, 2010

Special jurisdiction policing has grown substantially in the last 20 years and from all estimates it will continue to grow. According to figures compiled by BJS, in 2004 almost 50,000 full-time sworn law enforcement officers were employed by the almost 1,500 special jurisdiction agencies that participated in the report. Other names by which these departments are known include special-purpose police, special district police, or special enforcement police.

Each of these phrases is meant to describe police officers whose primary jurisdictions are public buildings and facilities, including colleges, hospitals, and public schools; transportation systems; natural resources and parks and recreation; alcohol, drug, and gambling enforcement; and fire marshals and arson investigators. Many public facilities are protected by private security officers or publicly funded officers who do not possess police authority, but a very large number of public or partially publicly funded entities are authorized to hire police officers with powers identical to or very similar to local police. In some instances, these officers may be limited to exercising their police authority only on the property of or in cases connected to their employers, but in some states their powers are identical to those of local police officers and may actually extend across more than one municipality, or even more than one state.

The list of these types of agencies is vast. It is likely that no matter how unusual your interests, there is an agency dedicated to providing law enforcement services to it.

One of the fastest-growing categories of special jurisdiction law enforcement is campus policing. Campus policing also seems to be attracting large numbers of women and minority male applicants to its ranks, possibly because colleges themselves are seen as actively working to achieve both a diverse student population and a diverse workforce. Transportation policing is also growing. As more cities throughout the nation, particularly in the western and southwestern portions of the country, build transit systems to combat traffic problems, pollution, and urban sprawl, many are upgrading existing security departments into full-service police agencies. A number of cities are also creating new police agencies to take over these responsibilities from local police or sheriffs' offices that have provided service on a contract basis or through creation of small, transit-specific units within the departments. Airports also, many of which have depended on sheriffs' deputies or local police to provide patrol services, are creating airport-specific police departments. Because of the number of opportunities in these areas, each is discussed individually.

Campus Police Departments

Campus police departments are the largest single category of special jurisdiction law enforcement agencies. Despite their growth, though, not all campus agencies are police departments. Ninety percent of public institutions employ sworn officers, while fewer than 50% of private institutions do. Size of the institution also plays a role. More than three-fourths of agencies on campuses with more than 2,500 students are state-certified law enforcement agencies. Estimates vary, but campus police agencies counted by BJS employ about 11,000 full-time officers. Most individual agencies are not large, but within the last decade the ratio of officers to students has increased slightly around the country. Part of the increased hiring has resulted from the number of campuses that have increased their use of sworn police officers rather than security officers.

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