Policing Function at the Local, State and Federal Organizational Levels

Subject: Law
Pages: 6
Words: 1448
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: College


Law enforcement is one of the most challenging activities in most nations. Crime has been on the rise and has been a wakeup call for governments to step-up policing in their respective nations (Palmiotto & Unnithan, 2011). There is complexity in enforcing law in the US due to existence of three levels of governance: federal, state and local authorities. Currently, the total number of law enforcement agencies in the US is estimated to be about 18,000. There are also private security agencies that are said to employ over one million individuals (Moor, 2009).

It is important to note that the law enforcement department in the United States makes an important part of criminal justice. The main objective of law enforcers is to protect citizens from crime. This is done through policing organizations whose main duties include maintaining order in the society, performing public duties, as well as enforcing law and preventing any form of criminal activities from taking place. There are three major agencies that help in enforcing law in the US. These are local, state and federal agencies. Each agency has its own functions. However, there are some functions that are similar across the agencies. In addition, their organization, administration and management differ in some capacities, but they are similar in other capacities. This article will compare and contrast the policing function at the local, state, and federal organizational levels.

Similar functions

The local, state and federal police are different agencies operating in different capacities, but there are some functions that are common among them. For instance, each of agencies is responsible for ensuring the safety of the citizens of the United States and protecting citizen rights. Under this function, the three agencies are entrusted with providing security within the whole nation, despite the capacity under which they operate. All Americans have rights that ought to be protected. It is the duty of the police to protect the rights (Palmiotto & Unnithan, 2011). The other function that is similar among all the departments is law enforcement. There are laws that are set to govern the country, and it is the duty of every citizen to adhere to the laws. The police take appropriate action against any citizen who goes against the laws of the federal or state governments.

Arresting wrongdoers is also a common duty for the three police agencies. An individual who is caught going against the law should be arrested and taken to court where they are judged and sentenced if found guilty. In whatever level the police operate, they have the right to arrest any wrongdoer within the United States. Finally, service to the public is the duty of any police officer, despite the level at which they operate. Among the services that the police offer to the public include first aid services, rescue, educating people on issues such as drug abuse, tourist guide, as well as guiding those who are disoriented, among other services (Cole, Smith & DeJong, 2013). The only difference that may exist in performing these functions is the jurisdiction within which each of the agencies operates. For instance, the federal police have a large jurisdiction, followed by the state police agency and the local police agency respectively.

Local police

The local police are also referred to as the county police. They operate in the local areas and only handle minor cases. They also operate in metropolitan counties. Local police’s jurisdiction is countrywide, despite their local state. The local police operate as sheriffs and as county police in areas where there is a county. Their functions and operations are varied according to the three categories: full service, limited service and restricted service. The full service police serve the whole area that they represent, limited service police officers serve a given location within the county or the area that they are assigned, and finally the restricted service police offer services to given facilities and parks. The department is said to be more than two-thirds of the 18,000 individual police in the three major police agencies (Cole, Smith & DeJong, 2013). It is imperative to note that the local police are given the name ‘Police Department’ in municipalities, with the name of that municipality as the prefix. For instance, local police in New York City are referred to as the New York City Police Department (NYPD).

The functions of local police include maintenance of order in the local areas assigned to them. This is a duty that is also performed by the other agencies, but the difference is the size of the jurisdiction. The local police agency covers a smaller area compared to the other agencies. The local police also conduct community based crime prevention, as well as court operations. The other functions of this department are as mentioned earlier and are similar to the other agencies (Cole, Smith & DeJong, 2013).


The department is operated by local governments. These are governments such as those that govern towns, municipals, counties, cities, as well as townships. They are small governments compared to state and federal governments. The funding of local police agencies is done by local government funds, although this is supplemented with state and federal funds (Cole, Smith & DeJong, 2013).

Management and administration

The local police agencies are managed by local government leaders. It is important to note that the functions of the administrators and managers of these agencies must be consistent with those of the state and federal governments.

State Police Agency

These are police agencies that operate within states. They have a larger jurisdiction compared to local police, but smaller than that of the federal police. They are also referred to as Highway Patrol or State Police. Part of the police departments that make up the Department of Public Safety is the state police. Each state government has its own police and the police can be divided according to enforcement divisions (Cole, Smith & DeJong, 2013). Some of the divisions include water correction, hospital police, campus police, and department of correction among others.

Functions and operations

The state police functions that are different from the rest of the police agencies include traffic enforcement and criminal investigations. State police control traffic in the state. They deal with any traffic case that may arise. They are also involved in investigating crimes within states. There are other investigation departments that also carry out hazard mitigation within the state. The state police department operates within a state (Boyes-Watson, 2013).

Management and administration

This agency is managed and administered by the state government. The state leaders direct the functions of the state police department. They make decisions and give directions. The state police should enforce state rules that should be consistent with the federal laws.

Federal police

The federal government is also the national government of the United States. Therefore, the federal police department is the highest policing level in the country. This department is accorded full federal authority by the United States Code (Boyes-Watson, 2013). It has the ability to enforce laws at the national level. Federal police has a number of branches, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Federal Security, as well as the Department of Justice among others. The latter comprises of FBI, DEA, AFT, and BOP. The Homeland Security comprises of CBP, ICE, USSS, TSA, and USCG.

Functions and operations

The federal police agency is responsible for ensuring national security. It, therefore, protects the nation from external attacks and crimes. The agency conducts investigations and detects national crimes. Federal police also carry out border protection. The agency has multiple jurisdictions in that it can operate in more than one jurisdiction. It also performs rescue duties in case of a disaster that affects many people or a large area. All the other police agencies are under federal agency, thus their functions should be consistent with its functions (Cole, Smith & DeJong, 2013).

Management and administration

The federal police agency is operated by the national government, thus it is responsible for enforcing national laws. The agency is funded by the federal government. Its major decisions are made and implemented by the federal government in conjunction with police department leaders. Some of the decisions made by the federal government may affect the federal police and the other two agencies as well (Boyes-Watson, 2013).


The US has a large number of police officers, thereby making law enforcement a complex task. The main objectives of the police agencies are law enforcement and providing security. This is regardless of the level of the agency. The scope of the agency in question may differ in performance of duties depending on level of the agency. However, all functions are geared toward common objectives.


Boyes-Watson, C. (2013). Crime and justice: Learning through cases, second edition. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Cole, G. F., Smith, C. E., & DeJong, C. (2013). The American system of criminal justice 13 ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Moor, L. G. (2009). Restorative policing. Antwerpen: Maklu.

Palmiotto, M., & Unnithan, N. P. (2011). Policing & society: A global approach. Clifton Park, NY: Delmar Cengage Learning.