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Law Enforcement

Law enforcement describes the agencies and employees responsible for enforcing laws, maintaining public order, and managing public safety. The primary duties of law enforcement include the investigation, apprehension, and detention of individuals suspected of criminal offenses. Some law enforcement agencies, particularly sheriffs' offices, also have a significant role in the detention of individuals convicted of criminal offenses.

BJS maintains several national data collections, covering federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and special topics in law enforcement. Data are typically collected directly from law enforcement and related agencies, including crime laboratories, police departments, sheriffs' offices, and training academies. The most recent tool to  access incident-based data on crimes recorded by law enforcement is the Law Enforcement Agency Reported Crime Analysis Tool ( LEARCAT ). 

Most data collections are conducted every 2 to 4 years and report aggregate findings. From these collections, BJS publishes national estimates for personnel, equipment, operations, policies, budgets, and job functions across agencies.

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Data Collections

How many full-time federal law enforcement officers are there?

As of fiscal year 2020, BJS estimated about 137,000 full-time federal law enforcement officers. The largest federal law enforcement agency is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which employed almost 47,000 full-time officers in 2020.

What is the difference between a sheriff's office and a police department?

One difference between a sheriff's office and police department is the jurisdiction that each type of agency covers. While both sheriffs' offices and police departments are law enforcement agencies, sheriffs' offices have countywide jurisdiction and police departments' authority is limited to specific cities, municipalities, towns, or villages. In addition, sheriffs' offices are generally empowered by the state to serve counties and independent cities, while police departments are established under municipal regulations. The head of a sheriff's office is a sheriff who is usually an elected official. The head of a police department is usually the chief, who is typically appointed by a government entity, such as mayor, city manager, or a commissioner.

How many women are employed by local police departments and sheriffs’ offices?

In 2020, about 14% of full-time sworn officers employed by local police departments and sheriffs’ offices were female. As of 2020, 4% of local police chiefs and 1% of sheriffs were female. About 9% of intermediate supervisors (those between chiefs and sergeants or first-line supervisors) in local police departments and 10% in sheriffs’ offices were female. About 10% of first-line supervisors (sergeants) in local police departments and 12% in sheriffs’ offices were female.

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What is a Law Enforcement Officer?

A law enforcement officer's primary responsibility is to protect lives and property. All of their tasks relate back to this one responsibility. There are a wide variety of types of law enforcement officers and organizations. Duties are performed based on the type of officer and organization. In almost all situations, law enforcement officers are expected to fulfill their responsibilities whether on or off duty.

What Tasks Do Law Enforcement Officers Perform?

Law enforcement officers' duties depend on the type of officer and the organization in which they work. Law enforcement officer types include:

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Officer Expectations and Duties

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Qualities of a Police Officer

Duties of a police officer.

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    Occupational Outlook Handbook

Police and Detectives

What they do, work environment, how to become one, job outlook, state & area data, similar occupations.

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What Police and Detectives Do

Police officers protect lives and property. Detectives and criminal investigators gather facts and collect evidence of possible crimes.

Police and detective work can be physically demanding, stressful, and dangerous. Police and sheriff's patrol officers and transit and railroad police have some of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. Working around the clock in shifts is common.

How to Become a Police Officer or Detective

The education typically required to enter the occupation ranges from a high school diploma to a college degree. Most police and detectives must graduate from their agency’s training academy before completing on-the-job training. Candidates must be U.S. citizens, usually at least 21 years old, and able to meet rigorous physical and personal qualifications.

The median annual wage for police and detectives was $66,020 in May 2021.

Overall employment of police and detectives is projected to grow 3 percent from 2021 to 2031, slower than the average for all occupations.

Despite limited employment growth, about 68,500 openings for police and detectives are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for police and detectives.

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of police and detectives with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about police and detectives by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Police and Detectives Do About this section

Police and detectives

Police officers protect lives and property. Detectives and criminal investigators, who are sometimes called agents or special agents , gather facts and collect evidence of crimes.

Police officers, detectives, and criminal investigators typically do the following:

Job duties differ by employer and function, but police and detectives are required by law to write detailed reports and keep meticulous records. Most carry law enforcement equipment such as radios, handcuffs, and guns.

The following are examples of types of police and detectives: 

Detectives and criminal investigators are uniformed or plainclothes officers who gather facts and collect evidence related to criminal cases. They conduct interviews, examine records, monitor suspects, and participate in raids and arrests. Detectives typically investigate serious crimes, such as assaults, robberies, and homicides. In large police departments, detectives usually specialize in investigating one type of crime, such as homicide or fraud. They are typically assigned cases on a rotating basis and work on them until an arrest and trial are completed or until the case is dropped.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents , sometimes called special agents , investigate and pursue criminal cases that violate federal law. FBI agents are responsible for crimes against public agencies, such as Medicare fraud, or that cross state lines. In addition, federal agents may join or take over investigations of certain types of state cases, such as those related to prescription drugs or large sums of money.

Fish and game wardens enforce fishing, hunting, and boating laws. They patrol fishing and hunting areas, conduct search and rescue operations, investigate complaints and accidents, and educate the public about laws pertaining to the outdoors. Federal fish and game wardens are often referred to as Federal Wildlife Officers.

Police and sheriff’s patrol officers are the most common type of police and detectives, and they have general law enforcement duties. They wear uniforms that allow the public to easily recognize them as police officers. They have regular patrols and also respond to emergency and nonemergency calls. During patrols, officers observe people and activities to ensure order and safety.

Some police officers work only on a specific type of crime, such as narcotics. Officers, especially those working in large departments, may work in special units, such as mounted (horseback), motorcycle, or special weapons and tactics (SWAT). Typically, officers must work as patrol officers for a certain number of years before they are appointed to a special unit.

Transit and railroad police patrol train yards and transportation hubs, such as subway stations. They protect property, employees, and passengers from crimes such as thefts and robberies. They remove trespassers from railroad and transit properties and check IDs of people who try to enter secure areas.

Work Environment About this section

Police and detectives

Police and detectives held about 808,200 jobs in 2021. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up police and detectives was distributed as follows:

The largest employers of police and detectives were as follows:

Police and detective work can be physically demanding, stressful, and dangerous. Officers must be alert and ready to react throughout their entire shift. Officers regularly work at crime and accident scenes and encounter suffering and the results of violence. Although a career in law enforcement may be stressful, many officers find it rewarding to help members of their communities.

Some federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Secret Service , require extensive travel, often on short notice. These agents may relocate a number of times over the course of their careers. Other agencies, such as U.S. Border Patrol , may require work outdoors in rugged terrain and in all kinds of weather.

Injuries and Illnesses

Police and sheriff's patrol officers and transit and railroad police have some of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. They may face physical injuries during conflicts with criminals and other high-risk situations.

Work Schedules

Most police and detectives work full time. Paid overtime is common, and shift work is necessary to protect the public at all times.

FBI special agents must work at least 50 hours a week and are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

How to Become a Police Officer or Detective About this section

Police and detectives

The education typically required to enter the occupation ranges from a high school diploma to a college degree. Most police and detectives must graduate from their agency’s training academy before completing a period of on-the-job training. Candidates must be U.S. citizens, usually at least 21 years old, and able to meet rigorous physical and personal qualifications. A felony conviction or drug use may disqualify a candidate.

Police and detective applicants must have at least a high school diploma or equivalent, although some federal agencies and police departments may require that applicants have completed college coursework or a college degree. Many community colleges and 4-year colleges and universities offer programs in law enforcement and criminal justice. Knowledge of a foreign language is an asset in many federal agencies and geographical regions.

Fish and game wardens typically need a bachelor’s degree; desirable fields of study include wildlife science, biology , or natural resources . Federal Wildlife Officers and some state-level fish and game wardens typically do not need a bachelor’s degree.

Federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation  may require prospective detectives and investigators to have a bachelor's degree.

Many applicants for entry-level police jobs have completed some college coursework, and a significant number are college graduates. Common fields of degree include security and protective service and social science .

Candidates for law enforcement appointment usually attend a training academy before becoming an officer. Training includes classroom instruction in state and local laws and constitutional law, civil rights, and police ethics. Recruits also receive training and supervised experience in subjects such as patrol, traffic control, firearm use, self-defense, first aid, and emergency response.

Federal law enforcement agents undergo extensive training, usually at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia, or at a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center .

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Because they need experience in law enforcement, detectives typically begin their careers as police officers.

FBI special agent applicants  must have at least 2 years of full-time work experience, or 1 year of experience plus an advanced degree (master’s or higher).

Other Experience

Some police departments have cadet programs for people interested in a career in law enforcement who do not yet meet age requirements for becoming an officer. These cadets do clerical work and attend classes until they reach the minimum age requirement and can apply for a position with the regular force. Military or police experience may be considered beneficial for prospective cadets.

Cadet candidates must be U.S. citizens, usually be at least 18 years old, have a driver’s license, and meet specific physical qualifications. Applicants may have to pass physical exams of vision, hearing, strength, and agility, as well as written exams. Candidates typically go through a series of interviews and may be asked to take polygraph (lie detector) and drug tests. A felony conviction may disqualify a candidate.


Police officers usually become eligible for promotion after a probationary period. Promotions to corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain usually are made according to scores on a written examination and on-the-job performance. In large departments, an officer may be promoted to detective or to specialize in one type of police work, such as working with juveniles.

Along with exam and performance scores, a bachelor’s degree may be required for advancement to positions of lieutenant or higher rank.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Police and detectives must be able to speak with people and to express details in writing about an incident.

Empathy. Police officers need to understand the perspectives of a variety of people in their jurisdiction and be willing to help the public.

Good judgment. Police and detectives must be able to determine the best way to solve an array of problems.

Leadership skills. Police officers must be comfortable with being a highly visible member of their community, as the public looks to them for help in emergencies.

Perceptiveness. Officers, detectives, and fish and game wardens must be able to anticipate people’s reactions and understand why they act a certain way.

Physical stamina. Officers and detectives must be in good physical shape, both to pass required tests for entry into the field and to keep up with the daily rigors of the job.

Physical strength. Police officers must be strong enough to physically apprehend suspects and to assist people in precarious situations.

Pay About this section

Median annual wages, May 2021

Note: All Occupations includes all occupations in the U.S. Economy. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics

The median annual wage for police and detectives was $66,020 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $40,420, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $105,540.

Median annual wages for police and detectives in May 2021 were as follows:

In May 2021, the median annual wages for police and detectives in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Other Compensation and Benefits

Many law enforcement agencies provide officers with an allowance for uniforms, as well as extensive benefits and the option to retire at an age that is younger than the typical retirement age. Some police departments offer additional pay for bilingual officers or those with college degrees.

Job Outlook About this section

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Note: All Occupations includes all occupations in the U.S. Economy. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

While a desire for public safety may result in a need for more officers, demand for employment is expected to vary depending on location, driven largely by local and state budgets. Even when crime rates fall, demand for police services to maintain public safety is expected to continue.

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational employment and wage statistics (oews).

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OEWS data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com . Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.


CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of police and detectives.

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about federal law enforcement, visit

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Drug Enforcement Administration

Federal Bureau of Investigation

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

U.S. Marshals Service

U.S. Secret Service

For more information about police and detective careers, contact your state or local law enforcement agency.

For career videos on police and detectives, visit

Fish and Game Wardens

Police Patrol Officers

Customs and Border Protection Officers

Detectives and Criminal Investigators

Intelligence Analysts

Police Identification and Records Officers

Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers

Transit and Railroad Police

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook , Police and Detectives, at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm (visited March 03, 2023 ).

Last Modified Date: Thursday, September 8, 2022

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

The Work Environment tab includes the number of jobs held in the occupation and describes the workplace, the level of physical activity expected, and typical hours worked. It may also discuss the major industries that employed the occupation. This tab may also describe opportunities for part-time work, the amount and type of travel required, any safety equipment that is used, and the risk of injury that workers may face.

The How to Become One tab describes how to prepare for a job in the occupation. This tab can include information on education, training, work experience, licensing and certification, and important qualities that are required or helpful for entering or working in the occupation.

The Pay tab describes typical earnings and how workers in the occupation are compensated—annual salaries, hourly wages, commissions, tips, or bonuses. Within every occupation, earnings vary by experience, responsibility, performance, tenure, and geographic area. For most profiles, this tab has a table with wages in the major industries employing the occupation. It does not include pay for self-employed workers, agriculture workers, or workers in private households because these data are not collected by the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) survey, the source of BLS wage data in the OOH.

State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2021 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2021, the median annual wage for all workers was $45,760.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2021

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2021, which is the base year of the 2021-31 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2021-31

The projected percent change in employment from 2021 to 2031. The average growth rate for all occupations is 5 percent.

Employment Change, 2021-31

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Employment Change, projected 2021-31

Growth rate (projected).

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2021 to 2031.

Projected Number of New Jobs

Projected growth rate.

The projected percent change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

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Understanding Law Enforcement

The purpose of law enforcement is to protect communities, hold individuals accountable, and ensure justice. But how exactly do police carry out these duties, and what other responsibilities have they taken on? Who controls the police force at different levels of government and who holds them accountable? How can we bridge gaps between citizens and officers?

Table of Contents

Introduction, putting it in context, the role of government, current challenges and areas for reform, thought leaders and resources, ways to get involved/what you can do.

View the Executive Summary for this brief.

By nature, police and communities are intertwined, and both are essential stakeholders in debates surrounding police reform. Dr. Karen Bartuch, Sgt. Sofia Rosales-Scantena, and Toni McIlwain joined The Policy Circle to discuss the role of police and the role of community involvement, and how citizens can help bridge gaps between communities and police officers:

According to Sir Robert Peel’s Nine Principles of Policing , the basic mission for which the police exist is “to prevent crime and disorder,” but it is also necessary to “recognize always that the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of [police] existence, actions and behavior, and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.” This is because police officers are in a unique position , being “both part of the community they serve and the government protecting that community.” This position was the focus of the Obama administration’s President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing , an endeavor to strengthen relations between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve, and it was at the heart of nationwide protests that erupted in May 2020 and sparked national debate over the role of police .

law enforcement tasks

A May 2021 report from the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice found that homicide rates declined from their 2020 peaks during the first quarter of 2021, but are still elevated compared to recent years. Aggravated and gun assault rates are also elevated. On the whole, 2021 saw homicide counts continue to climb , but at a slower pace than in 2020.

Crime maps indicate city centers, the sites of anti-police protests, did not experience these upticks; rather, the low-income neighborhoods outside of the city centers are seeing violence peak. These increases in criminality – and in some cases disregard for the law – have made life on the street for the average police officer much more difficult. Lockdowns and protests against the police sidelined the social institutions that tend to keep communities safe, leaving streets emptied  “ of eyes and ears on their communities .”

Why it Matters

law enforcement tasks

In colonial times, law enforcement was a localized endeavor , carried out voluntarily by citizen groups, or sometimes by part-time officers privately funded by local communities. The Texas Rangers that patrolled Texas settlements in the 1800s became the basis from which state law enforcement agencies grew. In 1838, Boston established the first municipal police department , and was quickly followed by New York City, Chicago, New Orleans, and Philadelphia.

There are over 660 law enforcement academies that train the officers who go on to work in almost 19,000 local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. The bulk of these agencies are at the state and local level; state and local police departments employ over 930,000 people, with roughly 718,000 officers with power of arrest. In total, there are about 2.2 officers for every 1000 individuals living in the U.S.

Spending on state and local police  increased from $42 billion in 1977 to $115 billion in 2017 (adjusted for inflation), over 85% of which is local spending. Local spending on police “has outpaced the overall growth of city and county budget” over that time period, “rising faster than K-12 education, sanitation and parks and recreation.” Determining how much is spent on policing is difficult because funding comes from multiple sources; it is not enough to look at a city, county, or state budget alone for a full picture. In 2017, for example, Las Vegas spent less than 2% of its budget on police, but Clark County spent 15% of its budget on police; in Chicago that same year, the city spent almost 20% of its budget on policing, but Cook County only spent 2% of its budget.

Violent Crime & Deaths

Based on the FBI’s annual report of serious crime and the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ annual crime survey , crime in the U.S. fell by 50%-70% between 1993 and 2018. Yet in 18 out of 22 surveys conducted between 1993 and 2018, at least 60% of respondents said they believed there was more crime in the U.S. compared to the year before. There are on average 8.25 million criminal offenses each year, resulting in about 10 million arrests.

As of mid-2022, the most recent statistics available are from 2020. Since 2015, law enforcement agencies have been transitioning to a detailed (but more complicated) format known as the National Incident-Based Reporting System. The new system involves financial and technical hurdles for many police departments across the country. Less than 60% of America’s local law enforcement agencies voluntarily submitted data in the new format, meaning national-level and state-level crime data is not universally available.

Crime statistics from the FBI for 2020 show that homicides rose 30% between 2019 and 2020, to 6.5 killings per 100,000 people. In the 1990s, this rate peaked at 9.8 per 100,000 people. Experts have pointed to the pandemic, fallout from social justice protests, and economic disruptions as possible causes, although overall crime fell by 6% between 2019 and 2020. Agencies across the country voluntarily submit data for these statistics. For 2020, 85% of eligible agencies submitted data ; some missing include agencies in New York, Chicago, and New Orleans.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Crime Victimization Survey , through which U.S. residents self-report whether they have been victims of violent crime, reported 4.6 million total violent incidents in 2020, down from 5.8 million in 2019. In total, numbers have held relatively steady since 2010. It is important to note differences between self-reported crime and national statistics; based on comparisons to statistics from the FBI, about 40% of violent victimizations were reported to police in 2020.

law enforcement tasks

According to the Washington Post’s police shootings database , 1,021 people were shot and killed by police in the U.S. in 2020. Of those civilians who lost their lives, 652 were reportedly in possession of a gun and 175 were reportedly in possession of a knife, while 60 were reported unarmed. An article published in The Lancet indicates deaths involving police may have been undercounted in the U.S. (by as many as 17,000 data back to 1980) due to discrepancies between independent tallies and government data of death certificates. Others note the independent tallies come from crowd-sourced databases, which may not be reliable based on specific criteria used in classification.

Although Black Americans made up 14% of the U.S. population in 2019, they accounted for 26.6% of arrests and 24% of individuals shot and killed by police . White Americans, at 60% of the population, accounted for 69.4% of arrests and 45% of individuals shot and killed by police . “A simple count of the number of police shootings that occur does little to explore whether racial differences in the frequency of officer-involved shootings are due to police malfeasance or differences in suspect behavior.” In light of population proportions, some point to these figures as proof of systemic racism and that Black Americans are more likely to be killed by police than White Americans. Others look at violent crime statistics that indicate Black Americans are more frequently involved in criminal incidents, which could mean they are more likely to have encounters with police.

Diving deeper into these statistics, the FBI estimates Black Americans were 39% of offenders in murder incidents in 2019, almost three times greater than their share of the population. Still others point to statistics that indicate Black Americans are even more likely to be victims of violent crime than offenders; at 14% of the population, Black Americans were 54% of murder victims in 2019.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 2019 Crime Victimization Survey , violent criminal incidents with Black offenders and Black victims accounted for 70% of violent incidents involving Black Americans in 2019, a share much greater than their share of the population. In comparison, violent crimes with white offenders and white victims, at 62% of criminal incidents involving White Americans, is approximately equivalent to the population of White Americans. According to the 2020 survey , this rate did not significantly change over the course of the next year. 

The chart from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 2019 Crime Victimization Survey examines the race and ethnicity of violent incident offenders and victims.

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The U.S. Constitution “established a federal government of limited powers. A general police power is not among them .” Congress does, however, have legislative powers that allow it “to enact legislation that relates to law enforcement matters.” Federal laws , such as those related to immigration, bankruptcy, civil rights laws, and tax fraud, apply in every state. Data collection on crimes and law enforcement is mainly done at the federal level to compile national statistics. The federal government is also the largest provider of law enforcement training, primarily through the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers under the Department of Homeland Security. Finally, the federal budget includes provisions for supporting state and local law enforcement via justice assistance grants and public safety programs.

Federal Agencies

The  Department of Justice (the DOJ ) is the primary federal agency dedicated to public safety and controlling crime. The Attorney General (AG) supervises and directs the DOJ and its agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Bureau of Prisons; and the U.S. Marshals Service.

For FY2021, total funding for the DOJ amounted to $55.3 billion. Law enforcement operations totaled $18.7 billion.

In total, there are 65 federal agencies and 27 offices of inspector general that employ full time personnel authorized to make arrests and carry firearms. These include the DOJ offices mentioned above as well as U.S. Customs and Border Protection under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); the Park Service Rangers under the Department of the Interior ; and lesser known security offices and details under the Departments of Commerce , Labor , and State , among others.

Congress can influence policing at the local level via the relationship between the DOJ and police throughout the country. Both the House and Senate Committees on the Judiciary provide oversight of the DOJ and DHS. In the Senate, the Judiciary Committee’s  Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism oversees the DOJ’s criminal division and most offices, including the FBI and DEA. In the House, the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations has jurisdiction over the Federal Criminal Code, sentencing, prisons, parole, and pardons.

State and Local

The Constitution gives authority over policing to the states . Each state and territory has its own legal and court system to handle criminal matters. State and local agencies make up the bulk of the almost 19,000 law enforcement agencies across the country, and local police departments employ the vast majority of all law enforcement officers, employing approximately 650,000 officers.

Each state has an attorney general who acts as “ the chief legal officer of the state ” and oversees law enforcement and reform. The attorneys general of each state and Washington D.C., and the chief legal officers of Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Virgin Islands are all members of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG).

At the local level there are municipal, county, tribal, and regional police departments that “uphold the laws of the jurisdiction, provide patrol, and investigate local crimes.” Sheriffs offices are granted authority by the state to enforce the state law at the local level in the more than 3,000 counties in the U.S. Police chiefs , who oversee departments, report to local elected officials such as a mayor, a city manager, or a city council.

Local police department officers have the most interaction with their communities. City, county, and municipal officers are those who respond to 911 calls, and monitor roadways and enforce traffic laws . Traffic stops are the primary way most people interact with law enforcement personnel. Most importantly, local law enforcement, like hospitals, operate 24 hours, 7 days a week; people turn to police departments when they do not know who else to turn to.

A series of incidents of excessive use of force in 2020, including the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Elijah McClain, sparked calls for more police oversight and reform. Mounting concern about violent crime in the U.S. has tempered some of these calls. In a July 2020 poll by Gallup , 58% of all Americans said that there were “major changes needed” for police reform. In mid-2021 , 61% of Black Americans, 41% of White Americans, and 30% of Hispanic Americans reported having very little or no confidence in the criminal justice system. By late 2021, the share of adults who want more funding for policing in their area increased to 47% , up from 31% in June 2020.

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Misconduct & excessive use of force.

Use of force is one of the greatest concerns for many Americans. A June 2020 PEW poll found that only 35% of Americans believe the police do a good or excellent job of “using the right amount of force.”

Finding data to verify these assumptions is difficult. A 2017 Harvard study on police use of force and racial bias found  “[d]ata on lower level uses of force…are virtually non-existent,” and “the analysis of police behavior is fraught with difficulty including, but not limited to, the reliability of the data that does exist.” The study examined data from New York’s City’s Stop and Frisk policy, the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Police-Public Contact Survey , and officer-involved shooting data reported voluntarily from twelve police departments across the country. The main findings ( p. 29-30 ) report:

“On non-lethal uses of force, there are racial differences – sometimes quite large – in police use of force, even after controlling for a large set of control designed to account for important contextual and behavioral factors at the time of the police-civilian interaction. As the intensity of force increases…the overall probability of such an incident occurring decreases but the racial difference remains constant. On the most extreme uses of force, however – officer-involved shootings with a Taser or lethal weapon – there are no racial differences in either the raw data or when accounting for controls.”

law enforcement tasks

Mandating body cameras is a suggestion for ensuring reliable data and accountability. Live footage can guarantee police reports are accurate. It will also help target individual officers for wrongdoing as opposed to intense and lengthy investigations into entire police departments that may interfere in officers’ abilities to respond to community needs. As of mid-2022, seven states mandate body cameras for law enforcement personnel (Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Carolina). About half of local police departments have acquired body cameras as of 2018. Urban Institute further breaks down each state’s body camera laws and regulations.

While body cameras have generally received wide-spread support, other means of equipping police officers have been called into question. The 1033 program authorizes the transfer of U.S. military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies. This includes necessary ammunition and medical supplies, but also sometimes armed assault vehicles and weapons reserved for military conflict. Equipping local law enforcement officers properly is essential to their protection and that of their communities, but excessive weaponization of police has been linked to more cases of excessive use of force, and “ exacerbates the gap between police and those they are supposed to serve.”

Unions & Collective Bargaining

Other barriers to holding police officers accountable for misconduct can sometimes be found in police contracts negotiated by unions. Police unions emerged alongside many other labor unions at the beginning of the 20th century. Although they initially enjoyed little public support, roughly two-thirds of American police officers are part of police labor unions today.

Police officers are government employees who require civil service protections in terms of demotions or transfers, layoffs or discharges, and pay and benefit determination. Additionally, due to the nature of police officers’ work, misconduct by officers can have more serious consequences than misconduct by other public employees. For this reason, state labor laws and Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBRs) “provide police officers with due process protections during disciplinary investigations that are not given to other classes of public employees.” Collective bargaining by unions ensures these laws are included in police department contracts to protect officers who use their discretion in dangerous situations.

The concern is how collective bargaining contracts can affect departmental policies and even entire disciplinary processes. A study of 178 police union contracts around the country found that many “contain provisions banning civilian oversight, obstructing brutality complaints, inhibiting investigations in police misconduct, and restricting the ability of officials to track and identify officers with a pattern of civilian abuse.” Most frequently, contracts:

Despite having the authority “to compel cities, under threat of litigation, to invest in costly reform measures aimed at curbing officer wrongdoing,” even the DOJ still needs to work around union contracts. This makes interventions at the national level difficult. Instead, states can mandate transparency in police union contract negotiations . According to the Empire Center’s Ken Girardin , collective bargaining agreements are usually negotiated in private between union representatives, some elected officials, and certain police department officers. One argument for making collective bargaining open to the public is that groups who are most affected by the police – those who live in the communities police serve, and therefore are at the greatest risk of police misconduct – would be present at the negotiating table.

Qualified Immunity

Another barrier to accountability is what is known as qualified immunity , “a judicial doctrine that shields public officials, like police officers, from liability when they break the law.” Section 1983 of the Enforcement Act of 1871 strictly states that any state actor (like a police officer, a government employee) is liable for “‘the deprivation of any rights’” of citizens. In the 1960s, the Supreme Court judicially amended Section 1983 with the qualified immunity doctrine so the new standard of liability was the deprivation of “‘clearly established’” rights rather than “‘any rights’.”

Under the new terminology, “‘clearly established’” refers to precedent. This is another protection for officers who use their discretion in dangerous situations, but it also creates “ a high and unnecessary bar ” for proving officer wrongdoing. For example, when deputies in Georgia accidentally shot a 10-year-old child when aiming for a dog, the lawsuit the family filed was thrown out because the court “could not find precedent declaring this type of conduct unconstitutional.”

Ending qualified immunity would require federal legislation , which has been just one piece of the contentious debates in Congress. As of mid-2022, lawmakers have been unable to reach an agreement on police reform; bills passed the House but not the Senate.

States can take matters into their own hands. For example, they can bypass qualified immunity through their own legislation. Colorado’s SB217 “essentially bars government actors from using qualified immunity in state courts.” At a department level, liability insurance for law enforcement personnel, much like medical malpractice insurance for doctors, could offer police officers protection without shielding them from discipline. At the individual level, body cameras can protect officers from dubious claims while still holding them accountable for wrongdoing.

Reimagining the Police & Communities

Police culture.

law enforcement tasks

In addition to the inherent dangers of their profession, police officers “experience job-related stressors that can range from interpersonal conflicts to extremely traumatic events, such as vehicle crashes, homicide, and suicide.” Congress passed the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act of 2017 in acknowledgement of the need for mental health resources for police officers, but whether this has made a significant difference is unclear; according to Blue H.E.L.P. , officer suicides increased from 149 in 2016 to 239 in 2019, then fell to 174 in 2020 and 177 in 2021.  

The FBI reported 89 officers were killed in line of duty in 2019 , 93 were killed in 2020 , and 129 were killed in 2021 .This means more officers die by suicide annually than in the line of duty , and that is already considering suicide deaths are likely undercounted since there is no database that collects suicide-related data specific to law enforcement.

Low-risk encounters can inadvertently escalate when officers face heightened pressure, stressors, and trauma while on the job. Feeling overburdened, ill-equipped, and misunderstood creates a scenario in which officers can feel alienated from the communities they serve. Resources dedicated to helping officers develop techniques such as stress-coping skills, crisis management, and emotional intelligence training is one step towards addressing the “‘ police warrior ’” mindset and bridging gaps in community-police relations.

One method may be to redistribute officers across districts; a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found more experienced officers use less force and make fewer arrests, but due to seniority-based process, districts with the most violent crime are staffed with less experienced cops that may be less effective at reducing that crime. Based on the assumption that senior officers are more effective at deterring crime, resolving situations, and exercising judgment due to experience, researchers determined crime would be reduced by almost 5% if senior officers were distributed across districts .

Sergeant Fred Jones notes that while “there will always be those that will not comply with the laws of society, and they will do anything not to be taken into custody,” emotional intelligence training plays an important role in police officers’ behavior, affecting how they treat others and themselves as they face these challenges on a daily basis (15 min):

Police Department Budgets

Spending on police has outpaced spending on education and community services in the past few decades. The premise behind the movement to defund the police “is that government budgets and ‘public safety’ spending should prioritize housing, employment, community health, education and other vital programs, instead of police officers.” Those who advocate defunding the police seek to redistribute a portion of funds that previously went to policing operations and correctional facilities. Instead of calling the police “to handle every societal failure,” funds and resources would instead be redirected to “supports for housing, mental health, addiction and employment” that could be more effective than arrests and jail time in solving underlying problems.

law enforcement tasks

All of this makes cuts difficult, and the jobs of police chiefs to work within these constraints is made more difficult as well. In fact, by October 2020, 18 police chiefs from the U.S.’s 69 largest cities had “ resigned, retired, been pushed out or fired ,” citing protests for police reform and calls for budget cuts. On the whole, however, reporting from late 2021 indicates law enforcement staffing as a whole has been fairly stable.

Across the country from New York to Los Angeles , elected officials approved plans to cut police budgets, although “many of the cuts are cosmetic, temporary or represent a relatively small part of budgets.” Bloomberg CityLab data reports that 50 of the largest U.S. cities reduced their 2021 police budgets by about 5%, but that most of this was part of “broader pandemic cost-cutting initiatives,” and law enforcement as a share of expenditures was practically unchanged and even increased slightly in these cities. Cities including Minneapolis and Seattle paused these changes, and many more proposed funding increases for 2022 after rises in crime over the course of 2020. In New York City, current mayor Eric Adams ran on a platform that kept police funding stable . 

Even with intentions to redistribute funds elsewhere, defunding the police could backfire. “When police command staff are presented with a reduced budget,” explains former FBI special agent Errol G. Southers , “[t]hey will cut the costs of the many programs police departments provide that are outside of day-to-day law enforcement,” mainly those that engage young people and police officers. This leaves few interactions between the community and the police, and therefore few opportunities to increase levels of trust.

A compounding issue is that drops in police-civilian contact are often followed by increases in crime, particularly in minority communities, according to Harvard economist Roland Fryer . In these communities and many others, response infrastructure and regular patrols mean that police officers are often the quickest to respond to 911 calls.

Public concern about violent crime in the U.S. has shifted attitudes about police funding, with decreasing support for defunding the police and increasing support for more local police funding .

law enforcement tasks

Another possibility could be, instead of defunding the police, ensuring police first responders  have the funds to equip them with the training and resources necessary to respond appropriately to all calls for help.

Others “are skeptical that existing police departments can ever be reformed” and believe “demolishing what is currently in place and starting from scratch” is the best option for transforming policing in America. They call not only to defund but to abolish the police . What this looks like is unclear. In June 2020, Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood closed down precincts in response to mass demonstrations, and police did not respond to calls coming from the neighborhood. A group of local business owners sued the city , claiming, “‘Seattle’s unprecedented decision to abandon and close off an entire city neighborhood, leaving it unchecked by the police, unserved by fire and emergency health services, and inaccessible to the public’ resulted in enormous property damage and lost revenue.”

On the opposite side of the country, Camden, New Jersey embarked on a campaign that actually did abolish the police department in 2013, but the city had a clear plan in place that “set about rebuilding the police force with an entirely new one under county control.” Prior to 2013, “the police were despised by residents for being ineffective at best and corrupt at worst,” and in one case five officers were charged with evidence planting, fabrication, and perjury. The transition took time and involved dismantling police union contracts and overhauling the system for rating officers’ performance. Today, the force still faces issues with transparency and high turnover rates, but the homicide rate and rates of excessive use of force have dropped considerably. For more on Camden’s transition, see this feature (5 min):

Community Policing

Community policing is “a police strategy that utilizes local partnerships and greater decision-making authority among street-level officers in an effort to solve community problems.” Focusing on partnerships between police and communities directly addresses the conditions that result in public safety issues, and has been found to reduce crime as well as fear of crime and increase public satisfaction and positivity towards police. The Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Service saw an increase in funding for FY2022.

Implementing community policing does not always result in a department-wide mindset shift; instead, many departments treat “this model of policing as a one-sided transaction carried out by a few officers in a special unit or through sporadic events or meetings.” Such departments may sustain the “‘ police warrior ’” culture with tactics such as suppression style policing, which “casts a wide net over a high crime area” by flooding it with law enforcement personnel. In doing so, explains Josh Crawford of Pegasus Institute , “you catch the big fish that are committing the overwhelming majority of violent crime in that area. The problem is, you catch a whole lot of small fish and you catch a whole lot of things that aren’t fish at all.”

This tactic presents a challenge for police-community relations . While it may be effective in catching criminals and deterring crime, there is “a growing body of research that suggests that citizen evaluations of the police are more connected to the way the police interact with the public than to the effectiveness of policing on crime.” If a community does not trust the police, they may not be willing to cooperate and it may be more difficult for police to solve crimes. If police have low crime resolution rates, the community may be even less trusting, creating a cycle of police-community alienation. Captain Chip Huth explains how these tactics affected the Kansas City Police Department, and what happened when officers changed their systems and mindsets (10 min):

Within individual cities and communities, changing training priorities may help police officers and citizens find middle ground. Of the 700 hours of average training for police recruits, about 60 hours are dedicated to firearms training and 50 hours to self-defense training. In contrast, fewer than 30 hours are dedicated to community policing, which includes mediation skills, conflict management, and human relations. The New Haven Police Department incorporated community policing as a training requirement for recruits. Recruits completed community projects in the city, such as organizing after-school activities or playing sports with kids at local parks. After the projects, recruits noted their time “substantially altered their perception of the neighborhoods” they would be serving.

Social worker Derrick Jackson of the Washtenaw County, Michigan Police Department explains how problem-oriented policing works , and how even former convicted criminals can make positive changes in their communities when the opportunities exist (9 min):

Increasing communications is an important step police departments can take. Although studies suggest citizens do not frequently access police department websites , the ones who do have positive views of police effectiveness and legitimacy. This provides police departments with an opportunity to create user-friendly websites and engaging social media accounts that support community-police collaborations by disseminating information to the public as well as inviting the public to share information.

Communities in Action

law enforcement tasks

Eugene, Oregon: CAHOOTS

When calls to the Eugene Police Department do not involve legal issues or risk of violence, dispatch operators will forward those calls to the medics and crisis workers that are part of the White Bird Clinic’s Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets (CAHOOTS) program . CAHOOTS, a collaboration between community social workers and police, has served as an alternative to police intervention since 1989. After receiving a call, a medic and crisis worker “ go out and respond to the call , assess the situation, assist the individual if possible, and then help that individual to a higher level of care or necessary service if that’s what’s really needed.” On average, the clinic’s teams answer between 15% and 20% of the calls that come to the police, and have needed to call for police backup on less than 1% of calls. The estimated savings for the city of Eugene are around $8.5 million annually.

See more about CAHOOTS in this feature (5 min)

Greater Syracuse, New York: 211

The city of Syracuse and surrounding suburbs have struggled with high levels of poverty since the 1970s, but the area’s plan to end unsheltered homelessness has been fairly successful. Instead of calling 911, a “robust 211 provider coordinates outreach response and shelter referrals and provides diversion assistance on a 24/7 basis” under the Continuum of Care system. Through the process, “City and County staff, who are charged with addressing homelessness, pro-actively engage with police, fire/EMS, and other first responders, as well as the local healthcare, criminal justice, and child welfare system.”

Volunteers in Police Service

Volunteer programs can also help law enforcement agencies “fulfill their primary functions and provide services that may not otherwise be offered,” such as social media outreach, community meetings, surveys, and civilian oversight boards. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Memphis, Tennessee, faith-based institutions have partnered with local police departments for specialized academies that train clergy members on police activity, allowing them to serve as ambassadors that can help build trust and communication among the congregation, community, and police.

The Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS) program, managed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Bureau of Justice Assistance under the DOJ,  is a support system for police departments seeking to develop or expand citizen volunteer programs, or citizens looking to be more involved with their local law enforcement agencies.

Research is another integral component in helping law enforcement. Programs, volunteers, and community organizations are essential, but indications as to which services and systems are having the greatest impact is not always clear. This is where the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab saw an opportunity to assist. See what they’re doing (7 min):

The role of the police is to ensure the safety and security of those who uphold the law, and to protect and help communities from those who do not. But they need to do so without using tactics that disrespect civil liberties or generate animosity in the neighborhoods they serve. Policies and practices that focus on transparency and accountability can help bridge gaps between law enforcement personnel and communities. Individuals and communities that take responsibility for their safety can also foster mutual trust and understanding with law enforcement. Collaboration and opportunities to work together can make officers’ roles easier and make communities safer for everyone.

The Policy Circle would like to thank the following contributors for their assistance during the creation of this brief:

Brianna (Walden) Nuhfer, Stand Together Associate Director of Criminal Justice

Greg Glod, Americans for Prosperity Criminal Justice Fellow

Phil Andrew, Principal of PAX Group consultancy and former FBI agent and crisis negotiator

Quentella Enty, Director of Strategic Sourcing & Sustainability at KFA, Inc.

NCSL: Law Enforcement Overview

George Mason University Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy

NYU Policing Project

Police Data Initiative

University of Chicago Crime Lab

National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice

Top Priority Podcast on Qualified Immunity with Greg Glod of Americans for Prosperity and Casey Mattox of Charles Koch Institute.

Measure : Find out what your state and district are doing about policing.

Identify: Who are the influencers in your state, county, or community? Learn about their priorities and consider how to contact them, including elected officials , attorneys general, law enforcement, boards of education, city councils, journalists, media outlets, community organizations, and local businesses.

Reach out: You are a catalyst. Finding a common cause is a great opportunity to develop relationships with people who may be outside of your immediate network. All it takes is a small team of two or three people to set a path for real improvement. The Policy Circle is your platform to convene with experts you want to hear from.

Plan: Set some milestones based on your state’s legislative calendar .

Execute: Give it your best shot. You can:

Working with others, you may create something great for your community. Here are some tools to learn how to contact your representatives and write an op-ed .

Suggestions for your Next Conversation

Explore the series.

This brief is part of a series of recommended conversations designed for circle's wishing to pursue a specific focus for the year. Each series recommends "5" briefs to provide a year of conversations.

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List of Police Officer Duties

Police officer duties

A police officer is a warranted employee of a police department, force, or military. Police officers are paid positions and are not appointed or elected to their posts as citizens. However, Police Chiefs and Commissioners may be elected by residents in the local community. Also, the public refers to Police officers as law enforcement officers or cops. Below is a list of police officer duties.

List of Police Officer Duties and Responsibilities

Enforce the law.

One of the primary responsibilities of police officers is to enforce the law. Hence, the term “law enforcement.” Enforcing the law involves several activities and comprises most of an officer’s time. This includes patrolling their assigned area and responding to calls related to disturbances. This leads to such activities as mediating disputes, filing reports, and arresting individuals.

Police officers may physically walk their assigned “beat” or areas differently. Some officers may travel around the city in a police vehicle, sometimes called a “cop car” or a “squad car.” Others may travel on a motorcycle or another motorized vehicle, such as a Segway. In some areas, officers ride horses, known as “mounted police.” Others may work on a foot beat and travel the site on a bike or foot.

Conduct Criminal Investigations

Most police officers investigate crimes at a very high level as a part of their patrolling and response calls. Law enforcement detectives investigate crimes more thoroughly by:

File Reports

Often, the law enforcement officer must document their observations and actions performed in the line of duty. In addition, they are required to complete police reports as required by their department. In some instances, law enforcement officers must testify in court related to cases they are involved with.

Administer First Aid

Police officers, sheriffs, and deputies are often the first people on the scene of accidents and natural disasters. Most police officers receive basic training in administering first aid, such as CPR, treating minor wounds, etc.

Make Arrests

Law officers are sworn to an oath and are granted the power to arrest and imprison suspects. Police officers apprehend suspects by responding to complaints and calls for help. If legally necessary, the officer will arrest the individual or individuals. Officers must read the person who is being arrested their Miranda Rights .

Maintain Knowledge of Procedures, Laws, and Ordinances

Officers must maintain knowledge of department policies and procedures. Also, they must maintain professional and technical knowledge by studying applicable federal, state, and local laws and ordinances; attending educational workshops; reviewing professional publications; practicing skills; participating in professional societies.

Operate Equipment / Vehicles

Law enforcement employees usually wear various equipment to help them perform their duties. The equipment may include a firearm or TASER / Stun Gun, baton or club, mace or pepper spray, two-way radios, handcuffs, a bulletproof vest , and more.

For more information on the standard equipment, see Police Officer Equipment , accessories, and devices used in the line of duty. Also, view a list of the vehicles used in law enforcement .

Private Sector Work

In addition to their regular police officer duties, cops are often hired by companies and private individuals to work in the private sector, mainly to provide security during events. This is due to their skill, expertise, and law enforcement experience. For example, officers are often hired to provide security for private events such as parties, conventions, or even weddings and funerals. In other situations, they are hired to provide personal protection or bodyguarding services to corporate executives, politicians, and celebrities.

Send, Receive and Interpret Radio Communications

Police officers use radios to communicate with their local dispatch units. In addition, they communicate with other officers, state and local government employees, legal professionals, and more. Most departments use Police 10 Codes to streamline radio communication.

Work Under Cover

Some trained operatives may go “undercover” to infiltrate criminal organizations such as gangs, cults, organized crime units such as the mafia, and even religious organizations. Personnel who go undercover don’t resemble the typical uniformed cop. They assimilate into the community they are trying to infiltrate by wearing the same clothes, frequenting the same bars and restaurants, and engaging in similar activities.

Additional Responsibilities

Some police officer duties may include crowd control, counter-terrorism , surveillance, child protection, VIP protection, and investigation techniques into major crimes, such as fraud, rape, murder, gang violence, or drug trafficking.

In addition, officers must have essential skills such as sound decision-making, understanding legal compliance, and good at handling pressure. Also, cops must be good at dealing with Uncertainty, Lifting, Physical Fitness, Judgment, Objectivity, Dependability, Emotional Control, and Integrity.

Other recommended resources and information:

Questions and Comments

If you have any questions about these police officer duties, please leave a comment below.


No law in Pleasant hill, Mo. For me I slip under the table because Pleasant hill could not keep cops. They did not do the paper work. 11 years of being Stalked/slander/harassment. Threaten, rob Shoot at. Each time I called the so called cops I was told we can not do anything. When I called for the paper work I was told the cop no longer work there. They did not even wright up a police report. The Mayor can’t even call me or wright me. I sent him the complaint. i have my story up on F B. No law for me. because Pleasant hill has no good cops and the Mayor who to busy to care in what happens.

I spoke to a retired Sheriff recently. He said one of the main aspects of their job was to educated the public. Most of his interaction with the public weren’t arrests or writing citation. Just interested that didn’t show up in your list.

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Criminal Justice Standards

Police function.

Copyright by the American Bar Association. This work (Criminal Justice Standards) may be used for non-profit educational and training purposes and legal reform (legislative, judicial, and executive) without written permission but with a citation to this source.   Some specific Standards can be purchased in book format .

In 2014, the Urban Police Function Standards (1979) were archived​, in whole, upon request by the Criminal Justice Section due to concerns that many provisions were outdated. 

A number of provisions, however, continue to be relevant. Upon request by the CJS, the ABA Board of Governors in July 2020 reactivated those provisions with minor changes, with the same numbering, under the amended title, ABA CJS Police Function Standards.

The reactivated Standards are listed below, followed by the original, complete Urban Police Function Standards.

Standards.Provisions reactivated:

Police Function Standards


Standard 1-1.1. Complexity of police task

(a) Since police, as an agency of the criminal justice system, have a major responsibility for dealing with serious crime, efforts should continually be made to improve the capacity of police to discharge this responsibility effectively. It should also be recognized, however, that police effectiveness in dealing with crime is often largely dependent upon the effectiveness of other agencies both within and outside the criminal justice system. Those in the system must work together through liaison, cooperation, and constructive joint effort. This effort is vital to the effective operation of the police and the entire criminal justice system

(b) To achieve optimum police effectiveness, the police should be recognized as having complex and multiple tasks to perform in addition to identifying and apprehending persons committing serious criminal offenses. Such other police tasks include protection of certain rights such as to speak and to assemble, participation either directly or in conjunction with other public and social agencies in the prevention of criminal and delinquent behavior, maintenance of order and control of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, resolution of conflict, and assistance to citizens in need of help such as a disabled person.

(c) Recommendations made in these standards are based on the view that this diversity of responsibility is likely to continue and, more importantly, that police authority and skills are needed to handle appropriately a wide variety of community problems.


Standard 1-2.1. Factors accounting for responsibilities given police

The wide range of government tasks currently assigned to police has been given, to a great degree, without any coherent planning by state or local governments of what the overriding objectives or priorities of the police should be. Instead, what police do is determined largely on an ad hoc basis by a number of factors which influence their involvement in responding to various government or community needs. These factors include:

(a) broad legislative mandates to the police;

(b) the authority of the police to use force lawfully;

(c) the investigative ability of the police;

(d) the twenty-four-hour availability of the police;

(e) community pressures on the police; and

(f) court decisions.

Standard 1-2.2. Major current responsibilities of police

In assessing appropriate objectives and priorities for police service, local communities should initially recognize that most police agencies are currently given responsibility, by design or default, to:

(a) identify criminal offenders and criminal activity and, where appropriate, to apprehend offenders and participate in subsequent court proceedings;

(b) reduce the opportunities for the commission of some crimes through preventive patrol and other measures;

(c) aid individuals who are in danger of physical harm;

(d) protect constitutional guarantees;

(e) facilitate the movement of people and vehicles;

(f) assist those who cannot care for themselves;

(g) resolve conflict;

(h) identify problems that are potentially serious law enforcement or governmental problems;

(i) create and maintain a feeling of security in the community;

(j)) promote and preserve civil order; and

(k) provide other services on an emergency basis.

Standard 1-2.3. Need for local objectives and priorities

While the scope and objectives of the exercise of the government's police power are properly determined in the first instance by state and local legislative bodies within the limits fixed by the Constitution and by court decisions, it should be recognized that there is considerable latitude remaining with local government to develop an overall direction for police services. Within these limits, each local jurisdiction should decide upon objectives and priorities. Decisions regarding police resources, police personnel needs, police organization, and relations with other government agencies should then be made in a way that will best achieve the objectives and priorities of a particular locality.

Standard 1-2.4. General criteria for objectives and priorities

In formulating an overall direction for police services and in selecting appropriate objectives and priorities for the police, communities should be guided by certain principles that should be inherent in a democratic society:

(a) The highest duties of government, and therefore the police, are to safeguard freedom, to preserve life and property, to protect the constitutional rights of citizens and maintain respect for the rule of law by proper enforcement thereof, and, thereby, to preserve democratic processes.

(b) Implicit within this duty, the police have the responsibility for maintaining that degree of public order which is consistent with freedom and which is essential if our diverse society is to be maintained.

(c) In implementing their varied responsibilities, police must provide maximum opportunity for achieving desired social change by freely available, lawful, and orderly means.

(d) In order to maximize the use of the special authority and ability of the police, it is appropriate for government, in developing objectives and priorities for police services, to give emphasis to those social and behavioral problems which may require the use of force or the use of special investigative abilities which the police possess. Given the awesome authority of the police to use force and the priority that must be given to preserving life, however, government should firmly establish the principle that the police should be restricted to using the amount of force reasonably necessary in responding to any situation.


Standard 1-4.1. Exercise of discretion by police

The nature of the responsibilities currently placed upon the police requires that the police exercise a great deal of discretion -- a situation that has long existed but is not always recognized.

Standard 1-4.2. Need for structure and control

Since individual police officers may make important decisions affecting police operations without direction, with limited accountability, and without any uniformity within a department, police discretion should be structured and controlled.


Standard 1-5.1. Need for accountability

Since a principal function of police is the safeguarding of democratic processes, high priority must be given for ensuring that the police are made fully accountable to their police administrator and to the public for their actions.

Standard 1-5.2. Need for positive approaches

Control over police practice should, insofar as possible, be positive, creating inducements to perform properly rather than concentrating solely upon penalizing improper police conduct. Among the ways this can be accomplished are:

(a) education and training oriented to the development of professional pride in conforming to the requirements of law and maximizing the values of a democratic society;

(b) inducements to police officers in terms of status, compensation, and promotion, on the basis of criteria that are related as directly as possible to the police function and police goals;

(c) elimination of responsibilities where there is a community expectation that police will “do something” but adequate lawful authority is not provided. Either the needed authority should be given or the police should be relieved of the responsibility;

(d) systematic efforts by prosecutors and judges to encourage conforming police behavior through:

(i) a more careful review of applications for warrants;

(ii) formulation of new procedures to simplify and otherwise provide easy access for judicial review of applications for warrants, thereby encouraging maximum use of the formal warrant process; and

(iii) formally advising the police administrator when improper police conduct is detected, in order to facilitate corrective action.

(e) recognition by legislatures and courts of police discretion, clarification of police authority to develop administrative policies to control police actions, and the requirement that police do develop such policies; and

(f) effective involvement of the community in the development of police programs.

Standard 1-5.3. Sanctions

(a) Current methods of review and control of police activities include the following sanctions:

(i) the exclusion of evidence obtained by unconstitutional means;

(ii) criminal and tort liability for knowingly engaging in unlawful conduct;

(iii) injunctive actions to terminate a pattern of unlawful conduct; and

(iv) local procedures for handling complaints against police officers, procedures which usually operate administratively within police departments.

(b) Legislatures should clarify the authority of police agencies to develop substantive and procedural rules controlling police authority – particularly regarding investigatory methods, the use of force, and enforcement policies – and creating methods for discovering and dealing with abuses of that authority. Where adequate administrative sanctions are in effect, evidence obtained in violation of administrative rules should not be excluded in criminal proceedings.

Standard 1-5.4. Tort liability

In order to strengthen the effectiveness of the tort remedy for improper police activities, governmental immunity, where it still exists, should be eliminated, and legislation should be enacted providing that governmental subdivisions shall be fully liable for the actions of police officers who are acting within the scope of their employment.  Neither tort liability nor costs attendant to the defense of a tort action should be imposed upon a police officer for wrongful conduct that has been ordered by a superior or is affirmatively authorized by police rules or regulations unless the conduct is a violation of the criminal law. Instead, liability and incidental costs and expenses in such cases should be borne by the governmental subdivision.


Standard 1-9.1. Contribution of the legal profession

Members of the legal profession should play an active role, individually and collectively, in developing local government policies relating to the police, in supporting needed changes in the form of police services, and in educating the total community on the importance and complexity of the police function. Among other things, each local bar association should appoint a special committee with which the police administrator can confer as to appropriate means of achieving objectives proposed in these standards.


Standard 1-10.2 Responsibility of society and government generally

The recommendations made in these standards require particular attention at the level of municipal government. Along with the recommendations relating specifically to police agencies, however, it should be recognized that police effectiveness is also dependent, in the long run, upon:

(a) the ability of government to maintain faith in democratic processes as the appropriate and effective means by which to achieve change and to redress individual grievances; the willingness of society to devote resources to alleviating the despair of the culturally, socially, and economically deprived; and

(c) the improvement of the criminal justice, juvenile justice, mental health, and public health systems as effective ways of dealing with a wide variety of social and behavioral problems, such as improvements in programs to provide assistance to citizens in need of help such as the person who is disabled.

Standards on Urban Police Function (Archived)

The following is the complete original Standards approved by the American Bar Association's House of Delegates in February 1979. Archived in 2014.


(a) Since police, as an agency of the criminal justice system, have a major responsibility for dealing with serious crime, efforts should continually be made to improve the capacity of police to discharge this responsibility effectively. It should also be recognized, however, that police effectiveness in dealing with crime is often largely dependent upon the effectiveness of other agencies both within and outside the criminal justice system. Those in the system must work together through liaison, cooperation, and constructive join effort. This effort is vital to the effective operation of the police and the entire criminal justice system

(b) To achieve optimum police effectiveness, the police should be recognized as having complex and multiple tasks to perform in addition to identifying and apprehending persons committing serious criminal offenses. Such other police tasks include protection of certain rights such as to speak and to assemble, participation either directly or in conjunction with other public and social agencies in the prevention of criminal and delinquent behavior, maintenance of order and control of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, resolution of conflict, and assistance to citizens in need of help such as the person who is mentally ill, the chronic alcoholic, or the drug addict.

Standard 1-1.2. Scope of standards

To ensure that the police are responsive to all the special needs for police services in a democratic society, it is necessary to:

(a) identify clearly the principal objectives and responsibilities of police and establish priorities between the several and sometimes conflicting objectives;

(b) provide for adequate methods and confer sufficient authority to discharge the responsibility given them;

(c) provide adequate mechanisms and incentives to ensure that attention is given to the development of law enforcement policies to guide the exercise of administrative discretion by police;

(d) ensure proper use of police authority;

(e) develop an appropriate professional role for and constraints upon individual police officers in collective bargaining and political activity;

(f) provide police departments with human and other resources necessary for effective performance;

(g) improve the criminal justice, juvenile justice, mental health, and public health systems of which the police are an important part;

(h) gain the understanding and support of the community; and

(i) provide adequate means for continually evaluating the effectiveness of police services.

Standard 1-1.3. Need for experimentation

There is need for financial assistance from the federal government and from other sources to support experimental and evaluative programs designed to achieve the objectives set forth in these standards.


(b) Implicit within this duty, the police have the responsibility for maintaining that degree of public order which is consistent with freedom and which is essential if our urban and diverse society is to be maintained.

Standard 1-2.5 Role of local chief executive

In general terms, the chief executive of a governmental subdivision should be recognized as having the ultimate responsibility for the police department and, in conjunction with the police administrator and the municipal legislative body, should formulate lawful policy relating to the nature of the police function, the objectives and priorities of the police in carrying out this function, and the relationship of these objectives and priorities to general municipal strategies. This will require that a chief executive, along with assuming new responsibilities for formulating overall directions for police services, must also:

(a) insulate the police department from inappropriate pressures, including such pressures from the chief executive's own office;

(b) insulate the police department from pressures to deal with matters in an unlawful or unconstitutional manner; and

(c) insulate the police administrator from inappropriate interference with the internal administration of the police department.



Standard 1-3.1. Alternative methods used by police

The process of investigation, arrest, and prosecution, commonly viewed as an end in itself, should be recognized as but one of the methods used by police in performing their overall function, even though it is the most important method of dealing with serious criminal activity. Among other methods police use are, for example, the process of informal resolution of conflict, referral, and warning. The alternative methods used by police should be recognized as important and warranting improvement in number and effectiveness; and the police should be given the necessary authority and resources to use them under circumstances in which it is desirable to do so.

Standard 1-3.2. Avoiding overreliance upon criminal law

The assumption that the use of an arrest and the criminal process is the primary or even the exclusive method available to police should be recognized as causing unnecessary distortion of both the criminal law and the system of criminal justice.

Standard 1-3.3. Legislative concern for feasibility of criminal sanctions

Within the field of criminal justice administration, legislature should, prior to defining conduct as criminal, carefully consider whether adequate authority and resources exist for police to enforce the prohibition by methods which the community is willing to tolerate and support. Criminal codes should be reevaluated to determine whether there are adequate ways of enforcing the prohibition. If not, noncriminal solutions to all or a portion of the problem should be considered, or the criminal justice system should be strengthened to enable it to enforce the prohibition.

Standard 1-3.4. Need for clarified, properly limited authority to use methods other than the criminal justice system

There should be clarification of the authority of police to use methods other than arrest and prosecution to deal with the variety of behavioral and social problems which they confront. This should include careful consideration of the need for and problems created by providing police with recognized and properly limited authority and protection while operating thereunder:

(a) to deal with interferences with the democratic process. Although it is assumed that police have a duty to protect free speech and the right to dissent, their authority to do so is unclear, particularly because of the questionable constitutionality of may statutes, such as the disorderly conduct statutes, upon which police have relied in the past;

(b) to deal with self-destructive conduct such as that engaged in by persons who are helpless by reason of mental illness or persons who are incapacitated by alcohol or drugs. Such authority as exists is too often dependent upon criminal laws which commonly afford an inadequate basis to deal effectively and humanely with self-destructive behavior;

(c) to engage in the resolution of conflict such as that which occurs so frequently between husband and wife or neighbor and neighbor in the highly populated sections of the large city, without reliance upon criminal assault or disorderly conduct statutes;

(d) to take appropriate action to prevent disorder such as by ordering crowds to disperse where there is adequate reason to believe that such action is required to prevent disorder and to deal properly and effectively with disorder when it occurs; and

(e) to require potential victims of crime to take preventive action such as by a legal requirement that building owners follow a burglary prevention program similar to common fire prevention programs.

Standard 1-3.5. Developing alternative responses

The development of alternatives to investigation, arrest, and prosecution should be the responsibility of the entire community and not of the police alone. However, the police should inform the community of the need for such alternatives within their area of responsibility. The choice among alternative responses should be based on a careful assessment of effectiveness in dealing with social problems.


Standard 1-4.3. Administrative rule making

Police discretion can best be structured and controlled through the process of administrative rule making by police agencies. Police administrators should, therefore, give the highest priority to the formulation of administrative rules governing the exercise of discretion, particularly in the areas of selective enforcement, investigative techniques, and enforcement methods.

Standard 1-4.4. Method of policy making

In its development of procedures to openly formulate, implement, and reevaluate police policy as necessary, each jurisdiction should be conscious of the need to effectively consult a representative cross-section of citizens in this process.

Police officers, as individuals and as a group, have a proper professional interest in and can make significant contributions to the formulation and continuing review of local law enforcement policies within individual communities. Methods should be developed by police administrators, therefore, to ensure effective participation in the policy-making process by all ranks including the patrol officer who, because of daily contact with operational problems and needs, has unique expertise to provide on law enforcement policy issues.

Standard 1-4.5. Contribution by legislatures and courts

To stimulate the development of appropriate administrative guidance and control over police discretion, legislatures and courts should actively encourage police administrative rule making.

(a) Legislatures can meet this need by delegating administrative rule-making responsibility to the police by statute.

(b) Courts can stimulate administrative development in several ways, including the following:

(i) Properly developed and published police administrative policies should be sustained unless demonstrated to be unconstitutional, arbitrary, or otherwise outside the authority of police.

(ii) To stimulate timely and adequate administrative policy making, a determination by a court of a violation of an administrative policy should not be the basis for excluding evidence in a criminal case unless the violation of administrative policy is of constitutional dimensions or is otherwise so serious as to call for the exercise of the superintending authority of the court. A violation per se should not result in civil liability.

(iii) Where it appears to the court that an individual officer has acted in violation of administrative policy or that an administrative policy is unconstitutional, arbitrary, or otherwise outside the authority of the police, the court should arrange for the police administrator to be informed of this fact, in order to facilitate fulfillment by the police administrator of his or her responsibility in such circumstances to reexamine the relevant policy or policies and tot review methods of training, communication of policy, and supervision and control


In order to strengthen the effectiveness of the tort remedy for improper police activities, governmental immunity, where it still exists, should be eliminated, and legislation should be enacted providing that governmental subdivisions shall be fully liable for the actions of police officers who are acting within the scope of their employment. Neither tort liability nor costs attendant to the defense of a tort action should be imposed upon a police officer for wrongful conduct that has been ordered by a superior or is affirmatively authorized by police rules or regulations unless the conduct is a violation of the criminal law. Instead, liability and incidental costs and expenses in such cases should be borne by the governmental subdivision.


Standard 1-6.1. Collective interest of police officers and limitations thereon

(a) Police officers have a proper collective interest in many aspects of their job such as wages, length of work week, and pension and other fringe benefits. To implement this interest, the right of collective bargaining should be recognized. However, due to the critical nature of the police function within government, legislation should provide that there shall be no right to strike. Effective alternatives to the right to strike should be made available as methods bv which police officers can pursue their collective interest; and model procedures governing this important matter should be developed.

(b) The right of police to engage in collective action, however, should be subject to the following limitations:

(i)The preservation of governmental control over law enforcement policymaking requires that law enforcement policy not be the subject of collective bargaining.

(ii) The need to preserve local control over law enforcement and over the resolution of law enforcement policy issues requires that law enforcement policy not be determined by a police union or other police employee organization.

(iii) The maintenance of police in a position of objectivity in engaging in conflict resolution requires that police not belong to a union which also has nonpolice members who may become party to a labor dispute.

(iv) The maintenance of proper control by the police administrator over the department requires that collective action not interfere with the administrator’s ability effectively to implement the policies and objectives of the agency.

(v) The potential for conflicts between the collective interests of line employees and supervisory and management personnel requires that, where feasible, separate bargaining units be required for these classes of employees.

Standard 1-6.2. Political activity by police officers

Police officers share the individual right to engage in political and other protected first amendment activity. However, police should not use their authority or the indicia of office, such as the uniform, for this purpose because of their possible coercive effect, nor should they engage in political activity which compromises their ability to act objectively in conflicts with which they may be called upon to deal. Because the police need broadly based community support in order to function effectively, police officers should exercise restraint in engaging in partisan political activities, and candidates for public office should be discouraged from seeking political support from police associations, where to do otherwise would be divisive of the community. Police officers must be allowed to speak out on public issues and to criticize government officials. However, they should be prohibited from publicly criticizing their superiors or other public officials where such criticism would impair the effectiveness of the policy department.

Standard 1-6.3. Grievance procedures

For a number of reasons, including sound administration, morale, and the restrictions on public statements by police officers regarding their employers, police department should assure that internal mechanisms exist whereby an employee may obtain swift and impartial resolution of grievances. Employees should be required to use such procedures in lieu of public criticism of the police agency, their superiors, or fellow officers.


Standard 1-7.1. Important function of police officers on patrol duty

The nature of police operations makes the patrol officer a more important figure than is implied by the rank structure. The patrol officer exercises broad discretion in a wide array of situations, each of which is potentially of great importance, under conditions that allow for little supervision and review. Even with the controls recommended in these standards, in the interest of developing a police profession as well as in the interest of improving the quality of police operations generally, the patrol officer should understand the important and complex needs of policing in a free society and have a commitment to meeting those needs.

Standard 1-7.2. Recruitment

(a) In view of the broad diversity of the police role, experiments should be conducted which make use of different levels of entry for personnel and standards particularly relevant for the various levels. Such recruitment standards should be related directly to the requirements of various police tasks and should reflect a great degree of concern for such factors as judgmental ability, emotional stability, and sensitivity to the delicate and complicated nature of the police role in a democratic society. Police agencies should vigorously recruit police officer who will be reflective of the communities they serve. In developing recruitment programs, police agencies must be careful to maintain the quality of the service rendered with the community.

(b) College graduates should be encouraged to apply for employment with police agencies. Individuals aspiring to careers in police agencies and those currently employed as police officers should be encouraged to advance their education at the college level. Communities should support further educational achievement on the part of police personnel by adopting such devices as educational incentive pay plans and by gradually instituting requirements for the completion of specified periods of college work as a prerequisite for initial appointment and for promotion. To increase the number of qualified personnel, police departments should initiate or expand police cadet or student intern programs which subsidize the education and training of potential police candidates.

Standard 1-7.3. Training and education

(a) Training programs should be designed, both in their content and in their format, so that hte knowledge that is conveyed and the skills that are developed relate directly to the knowledge and skills that are required of a police officer on the job.

(b) Educational programs that are developed primarily for police officer should be designed to provide an officer with a broad knowledge of human behavior, social problems, and the democratic process.

Standard 1-7.4. Importance of police administrators

In addition to directing the day-to-day operations of police agencies, police administrators have the responsibility to exert leadership in seeking to improve the quality of police service and in seeking to solve community-wide problems of concern to the police. The position of police chief should be recognized as being among the most important and most demanding positions in the hierarchy of governmental officials.

Standard 1-7.5. Authority of police administrators

Police administrators should be held fully responsible for the operations of their departments. They should, therefore, be given full control over the management of their departments; and legislatures, civil service commissions, and employee associations should not restrict the flexibility that is required for effective management.

Standard 1-7.6. Qualifications for police administrators

In the screening of candidates to assume leadership roles in police agencies, special attention should be given to the sensitivity of the candidates to the peculiar needs of policing in a free society; to the degree to which the candidates are committed to meeting the challenges of achieving order within the restraints of the democratic process; to the capacity of the candidates to deal effectively with the complicated and important issues that police administrators must confront in the decision-making processes that affect police operations; and to the overall ability of the candidates to manage and direct the total resources of the agencies. Communities should employ the best-qualified candidates without regard to their present locations or departmental affiliations. Because of the fundamental importance of the objectives set forth in standard 1-10.1, police administrators should be given the necessary support, job security, and procedural safeguards to allow them to achieve these objectives.

Standard 1-7.7. Police department organization

More flexible organizational arrangements should be substituted for the semimilitary, monolithic form of organization of the police agency. Police administrators should experiment with a variety of organizational schemes, including those calling for substantial decentralization of police operations, the development of varying degrees of expertise in police officers so that specialized skills can be brought to bear on selected problems, and the substantial use of various forms of civilian professional assistance at the staff level.

Standard 1-7.8. Research

A research capability should be developed within police agencies that will aid police administrators in systematically formulating and evaluating police policies and procedures and that will equip administrators to participate intelligently in the public discussion of important issues and problems involving the police.

Standard 1-7.9. Need for in-house police legal advisory

Given the nature of the police function, police administrators should be provided with in-house police legal advisers who have the personal orientation and expertise necessary to equip them to play a substantial role in the planning and in the development and continual assessment of administrative policies and training programs. The police legal adviser should be an attorney appointed by the police administrator or selected by the administrator from an existing governmental unit.

Standard 1-7.10. Relationship of legal adviser to police administrator

In view of the important and sensitive nature of the role, a police legal adviser or the head of a police legal unit should report directly to the police administrator. The relationship of a police legal adviser to a police department should be analogous to that of house counsel to a corporation. The police legal adviser should provide independent legal advice based upon a full understanding of the police function and upon legal expertise, and should anticipate as well as react to legal problems and needs.

Standard 1-7.11. Priority tasks for legal advisors

Among the range of tasks that may be performed by police legal advisers, priority should be given to assisting police administrators in:

(a) formulating the types of administrative policies that are recommended in these standards;

(b) developing law-related training programs pertinent to increased understanding of the nature of the police function, of departmental policies, of judicial trends and their rationale, and of the significant role of the police in preserving democratic processes;

(c) formulating legislative programs and participating in the legislative process;

(d) maintaining liaison with other criminal justice and municipal agencies on matters primarily relating to policy formulation and policy review, and assessing the effectiveness of various agencies in responding to common legal problems; and

(e) developing liaison with members of the local bar and encouraging their participation in responding to legal problems and needs of the police agency.


Standard 1-8.1. Relationship of the criminal justice and other systems to the quality of police service

(a) To the extent that police interact with other governmental systems such as the criminal justice, juvenile justice, and public and mental health systems, police effectiveness should be recognized as often largely dependent upon the performance of other agencies within these systems.

(b) For these standards to be of value in the criminal justice system, other parts of the system must operate, as a minimum, in such a manner that:

(i) Criminal cases are speedily processed;

(ii) Prosecutors and judges carefully review applications for warrants and use simplified procedures and otherwise provide easy access for impartial review of applications for warrants;

(iii) the lower trial courts, especially in the larger cities, are conducted in a dignified and orderly manner, considerate of and respectful toward all the participants; and

(iv) sentencing alternatives and correctional programs are as diversified and effective as possible.

Standard 1-9.2. Responsibility of educational institutions

Educational institutions should undertake research and teaching programs which provide understanding of the complex social and behavioral problems which confront urban police.

Standard 1-9.3. The news media

Public understanding of the police function is heavily dependent upon the coverage given by mass media to the newsworthy events in which the police are involved. Newspaper, radio, and television reporters assigned to reporting on police activities should have a sufficiently thorough understanding of the complexities of the police function to enable them to cover such events (as well as other matters that now go unreported) in a manner that promotes the public’s understanding of the police role.

Standard 1-9.4. Openness by police

Police should undertake to keep the community informed of the problems with which they must deal and the complexities that are involved in dealing with them effectively. Police agencies should cooperate with those who seek an understanding of police operations by affording opportunities for interested citizens to acquaint themselves with police operations and by providing access to the accumulation of knowledge and experience that the police possess.

Standard 1-10.1 Measure of police effectiveness

The effectiveness of the police should be measured generally in accordance with their ability to achieve the objectives and priorities selected for police service in individual communities In addition, the effectiveness of police should be measured by their adherence to the principles set forth in standard 1-2.4. This means that, among other things, police effectiveness should be measured in accordance with the extent to which the police:

(a) Safeguard freedom, preserve life and property, protect the constitutional rights of citizens, and maintain respect for the rule of law by proper enforcement thereof, and, thereby, preserve democratic processes;

(b) develop a reputation for fairness, civility, and integrity that wins the respect of all citizens, including minority or disadvantaged groups;

(c) use only the amount of force reasonably necessary in responding to any given situation;

(d) conform to rules of law and administrative rule and procedures, particularly those which specify proper standards of behavior in dealing with citizens;

(e) resolve individual and group conflicts; and

(f) refer those in need to community resources that have the capacity to provide needed assistance.

Traditional criteria such as the number of arrests that are made are inappropriate measures of the quality of performance of individual officers. Instead, police officers should be rewarded, in terms of status, compensation, and promotion, on the basis of criteria defined in this standard which directly relate to the objectives, priorities, and essential principles of police service.

(c) the improvement of the criminal justice, juvenile justice, mental health, and public health systems as effective ways of dealing with a wide variety of social and behavioral problems, such as improvements in programs to provide assistance to citizens in need of help such as the person who is mentally ill, the chronic alcoholic, or the drug addict.

Types of Local, County, and State Law Enforcement

Law enforcement professionals prevent and investigate crime in addition to maintaining peace and safety. People working in law enforcement may include patrol officers, detectives, forensics investigators, and probation, parole, and corrections officers.

In this article

two officers discuss in front of two police cars with lights flashing at night

Police officers often pursue a career path with a specific focus. These may include careers such as:

Community-based programs are a growing trend, both in law enforcement and other criminal justice fields, according to Vesna Markovic, Chair and Associate Professor of Justice, Law and Public Safety Studies at Lewis University in Illinois.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about law enforcement based on what people see on TV,” Markovic says. “It involves a lot more than that.”

Community-oriented policing focuses on preventing crime by building positive relationships with residents. Police use a number of strategies, such as regular foot patrol in neighborhoods and visiting private businesses, community organizations, and using outreach such as social media.

What’s the Difference Between Local, State, and Federal Law Enforcement?

Primarily, the difference between local, state, and federal law enforcement officials is who they work for and their jurisdiction. For instance, state-level officials work for a state agency and enforce state laws, but have no jurisdiction in federal matters; local sheriffs or police officers work for municipalities and enforce local and state laws within that municipality, but generally have no jurisdiction outside of that area.

Municipal | County | State | Federal

Municipal Law Enforcement

In towns and cities, police officers will patrol streets by car or highway, provide traffic assistance, respond to emergencies and calls for help, and maintain peace and security. If a crime occurs, they may investigate, interview people, and apprehend suspects. They also testify in court. Police detectives concentrate on investigations, while crime scene investigators are charged with gathering and analyzing evidence.

Some municipal police also provide protection for parks, public transportation, and local rivers and lakes, but in larger cities, these duties are often performed by specialized police units. Some sworn officers are employed as private police for schools, universities, or hospitals.

County Law Enforcement

All but three states (Alaska, Hawaii, and Connecticut) have law enforcement that work on the county level, but their jurisdictions and duties vary widely. They may perform full police functions, including investigations, in rural areas outside of towns and cities. Or, they may patrol county roads and assist in traffic control, serve summons and eviction notices, transport prisoners, or provide security at county courthouses or corrections facilities.

A handful of states have constables. They may be elected officials with limited duties, or employed as full-duty officers. 

State Law Enforcement

Specific duties of state-level law enforcement officials differ from state to state. All states have officers that enforce traffic laws and keep roadways safe. These are usually called troopers or highway patrol officers. However, in some states, there is a difference between a state police officer and a highway patrolman. For example, in California, the job of policing highways and roads falls to the California Highway Patrol . Investigating statewide crimes is the job of the California Bureau of Investigation. In other states, the state police department will provide services for both highway patrol and crime investigation.

Fish and game wardens or conservation officers are also generally employed on the state level. They monitor the safe and legal usage of public parks, waterways, forests, and open areas. They may enforce hunting and fishing laws, investigate crimes, and respond to emergencies.

Federal Law Enforcement

Federal law enforcement agents serve in many capacities, from providing security for federal buildings and elected officials to investigating federal crimes and responding to terrorist attacks.

What are Cyber Police?

Cyber policing is a fast-growing field of law enforcement. It operates mainly on the federal level, but local and state police do use digital technology to some extent.

“Cybercrime is under reported,” says Markovic. “If somebody hacks your computer, you don’t usually call the police.”

However, if the crime takes place on a major scale, such as data breach or ransomware attack, cyber police get involved, Markovic says. On the local and state levels, specialized police officers do use computer technology to detect and investigate crimes and suspects.

Becoming a cyber specialist or forensic computer analyst requires knowledge of technology and a college degree. Like any job in law enforcement, you will be required to attend a police training facility and undergo a background check .

Forensic computer specialists are also employed by private firms, Markovic states. 

What is a Peace Officer?

In most cases, the term “peace officer” is used interchangeably with “police officer,” since police consider their main objective to be keeping the peace. This can be confusing because in a few places across the country, “peace officer” refers to an officer who has limited duties . Some states refer to this role as auxiliary or reserve officer. Non-sworn peace officers may be employed, appointed, or elected.

Some assignments of designated peace officers differ greatly but may include:

How are Law Enforcement Agencies Structured?

Almost all agencies are organized according to a chain of command similar to the military. Municipal departments are typically directed by a chief or superintendent, followed by commanders, captains, lieutenants, sergeants, and officers. The rank of detective is often separate or may also combined with other ranks, such as a detective sergeant.

On the county level, the sheriff might be an elected position, while sheriff’s police or deputies are hired personnel.

It’s common for new officers to start at the lower ranks and earn promotions as they gain more experience and acquire more knowledge and skill. In most departments, you must pass a test and undergo training before advancing to the next level.

Each promotion will bring a boost of salary and additional or different responsibilities. Other factors that affect salary include the size of the agency, the area of the country, and the individual officer’s amount of experience. 

State Guides for Prospective Police Officers

Florida: The sunshine state has several requirements for prospective officers before certification, and education can replace training and become a direct factor in take home pay.

California: This state has the highest number of police officers in the country, no doubt in part to it’s large size and high population.

Texas: Becoming a police officer in Texas requires basic training, but education can be key in promotions and advancements in the lone-star state.

New Jersey: Police officers here have a wide variety of basic requirements , some asking that applicants cover basic training themselves.

Illinois: New police officers in Illinois can only attend a basic law enforcement training academy if they have been hired on by a sponsoring agency.

karen hanson

Written and reported by:

Karen S. Hanson

Contributing Writer

vesna markovic

With professional insight from:

Vesna Markovic

Chair and Associate Professor of Justice, Lewis University, Romeoville, IL

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