Law enforcement is the collective term for professionals who are dedicated to upholding and enforcing the laws and statutes that are currently in force in a given jurisdiction. There are law enforcement jobs that focus on local settings, while others are focused more on upholding and enforcing national laws. In addition to enforcing laws, the function of legal enforcement also involves managing the punishment process for people who are convicted of crimes, up to and including managing the process of incarceration.
At its core, law enforcement seeks to achieve two goals. First, enforcement professionals seek to prevent the occurrence of a crime that is in some way damaging to another human being or to society as a whole. Second, people employed in some enforcement capacity will seek to ensure suspected criminals are tried in a manner that is in compliance with local laws. Various officials will also assign some form of punishment or imprisonment that is considered equitable for the type of crime committed, while also seeking rehabilitation of criminals when and as possible.
The concept of law enforcement is not new. Since the beginning of recorded time, there have been people appointed to maintain the standards and rules of the tribe or other society. For example, ancient Chinese culture used a system involving prefects or protectors who were assigned by the ruling government. The role of the prefect was to protect the general public, hear the facts regarding alleged criminal activity, and impose fines or other forms of punishment as deemed appropriate.
Today, there are a number of law enforcement jobs found at many different levels. A local police force serves by protecting the rights of citizens living within a specified jurisdiction. Police are empowered to apprehend and arrest people who are suspected of committing acts deemed to be criminal in nature. In many cultures, the administration of the police department works with other law professionals to make sure the suspect is held in custody or at least remains in the general area until he or she can stand trial for the suspected criminal activity.
State and federal law enforcement professionals are also empowered to apprehend suspects where there is sufficient evidence of wrongdoing. Most nations have one or more enforcement agencies that have broad authority to function anywhere within the borders of the nation and any territories the country may possess. Some of the best known national agencies of this type include the FBI in the United States, and Scotland Yard in the United Kingdom.
Law enforcement also includes other professionals who manage some aspect of the containment, punishment, and possible rehabilitation of criminals. Employees of state and federal penal systems are considered to be members of the law enforcement community. In like manner, private detectives are also often viewed as being associated with legal enforcement. Probation officers, district attorneys, and court judges are also enforcement professionals who help to protect the rights of all citizens and seek to minimize the incidence of crime within society.