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What Are the Different Types of Law Enforcement?

Leigia Rosales
Updated May 16, 2024
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Many different types of law enforcement agencies can be found within the various jurisdictions around the world. As a rule, each country or nation has a national, or federal, agency, as well as various state or local agencies. In addition, some jurisdictions have specialized departments whose jurisdiction is limited to certain crimes.

Most countries have one or more national law enforcement agencies. Spain, for instance, has the Policía Nacional, the People's Republic of China has the People's Armed Police, and Mexico has the Policía Federal. Within the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, along with the U.S. Marshals Service, are the primary federal agencies. The US, however, has a variety of other groups that function as specialized police agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the United States Secret Service (USSS).

Although the distribution of duties will vary from one jurisdiction to another, federal agencies are generally responsible for crimes that take place on federal property or for things that affect the nation as a whole. State or local officials are usually responsible for keeping the peace within their borders. In the United States, for example, the FBI has jurisdiction over federal crimes, such as bank robbery, high-level drug trafficking, and kidnapping. Crimes for which the FBI has jurisdiction are crimes that affect interstate commerce or have a multi-state component.

In countries that are governed as a federal republic, or collection of states, the individual states often have their own law enforcement agencies as well. Within the United States, each state has at least one state-level police agency. Those in Mexico — officially, the United Mexican States — each have their own police agency as well. Generally, these agencies have jurisdiction over crimes committed within the state and may have concurrent jurisdiction with local law enforcement too. Many state police groups focus their enforcement efforts on state public areas, such as highways or parks, and leave enforcement efforts within cities or towns to local police.

Cities, towns, counties, or municipalities often have a police force as well. They are responsible for crime committed within the city, town, county, or municipality, and they also act as a deterrent to crime, as they frequently have a very visible presence in the area. Within these departments, duties are most often divided between patrol officers and detectives.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Leigia Rosales
By Leigia Rosales
Leigia Rosales is a former attorney turned freelance writer. With a law degree and a background in legal practice, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers. Her ability to understand complex topics and communicate them effectively makes her a valuable asset to any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By stl156 — On Aug 19, 2011

@Izzy78 - You are right in your acknowledgement in not every country having laws like the United States, however, most countries do follow the trend of having the federal law enforcement having jurisdiction over the state and local police.

Sometimes the case requires something specific for it to be considered a federal matter, and countries have different laws and customs in determining this, however, if it becomes an important enough case the federal law enforcement will usually come in to take over across the world.

There are even some law enforcement agencies like Interpol that act as administrative agencies between countries and do not necessarily make arrests themselves, but help federal, local, and state law enforcements in organizing to catch criminals.

By Izzy78 — On Aug 18, 2011

These are interesting posts, but what needs to be kept in mind is that the United States may not have the same separation of powers between federal and state law enforcement as there is in other countries. I have heard instances where some countries' local law enforcement has jurisdiction over federal, except when it becomes obvious it is too much for the local police to handle.

Different countries have different laws and it must be kept in mind that not every country in the world operates the same as the United States.

By Emilski — On Aug 18, 2011

@cardsfan27 - That is partially true. Although federal does have jurisdiction over state and local, in the United States it depends a lot on what the case is. State and local can always ask for federal help in a matter but the federal law enforcement does not necessarily have jurisdiction on the case just if they want it.

Say there is a murder in a town state police would probably be called in because it may be too much for the local police to handle, however, federal law enforcement does not have jurisdiction unless they can claim a reason, such as the perpetrator is committing crimes in multiple states. Otherwise, federal jurisdiction does not necessarily apply and it is left up to the state and local law enforcements to handle.

By cardsfan27 — On Aug 17, 2011

All types of law enforcement come down to who has jurisdiction. In the United States federal always has jurisdiction over state and local police, but they will only be called in when necessary. Other countries around the world follow a similar pattern and all it really comes down to is whether or not the federal police wants to handle the case or if the local or state police want to handle it.

Leigia Rosales
Leigia Rosales
Leigia Rosales is a former attorney turned freelance writer. With a law degree and a background in legal practice, she...
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