Federal Law Enforcement Agencies


Federal law enforcement agencies, legally part of the executive branch of the U.S. government, are independent of other law enforcement agencies and of legislative and judicial agencies (see Chapter 1). The following are among the major federal law enforcement agencies:


U.S. Marshal’s Service. The Marshal’s Service is a separate agency within the Department of Justice. The marshals protect the federal courts, judges, and jurors; guard federal prisoners from arrest to conviction; investigate violations of federal fugitive laws; serve summonses; and control custody of money and property seized under federal law.


U.S. Customs Service. Customs inspectors examine all cargo and baggage entering the country. Special agents investigate smuggling, currency violations, criminal fraud, and major cargo frauds. Special customs patrol officers concentrate on contraband, such as drugs and weapons, at official border crossings, seaports, and airports.


Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). ATF deals with the criminal use of explosives and with arson. Working with state and local police, it investigates arson cases. ATF has also pursued motorcycle gangs, such as the Hell’s Angels, that violate federal firearms and explosives laws and federal laws against drug trafficking.


Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). INS administers immigration and naturalization laws. Border patrol agents patrol more than 8,000 miles of land and coastal boundaries to the United States. INS takes into custody and arranges for the deportation of illegal aliens entering or residing in the country.


Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). DEA enforces all federal narcotics and dangerous drug laws.


Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI investigates more than 200 categories of federal crime. In addition, the FBI assists other federal, state, and local agencies through its extensive fingerprint files and other records. The FBI National Academy provides aid for some enforcement agencies throughout the country.


State Law Enforcement Agencies


Some states have state police agencies with statewide authority. These state police forces originated with the Texas Rangers, who in the early 1800s patrolled the Texas settlements. Following the Civil War, Massachusetts and Connecticut created state police agencies to combat vice. In the wake of labor-management strife resulting from rapid industrialization, Pennsylvania adopted a state police agency to quell industrial violence. These states overcame resistance generated by a fear that centralized state police agencies threatened both civil liberties and local autonomy.


 In the years following 1910, when the number of motor vehicles proliferated, the need for highway traffic control generated new calls for state police. States such as Texas, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts added a state trooper division to their existing organization. Most states never overcame the opposition to a centralized state police agency, but they did adopt special state highway patrol agencies with authority limited to traffic law enforcement. State highway patrol officers have only limited authority to perform general law enforcement duties, such as investigating crimes occurring in a state trooper’s presence or on or near state highways.


 Governors appoint the directors of state police or state highway patrols. Technological advances in traffic devices, alcohol testing, and communications systems all require officers to have greater ability and more training than their predecessors. Increasing numbers of states are setting statewide entry requirements and training standards for police officers, either through agency-established academies or in conjunction with institutions of higher learning. Following training, line officers advance in rank through either civil service or merit plans. In addition to enforcement agencies and training institutions, most states maintain “crime lab” or “criminalistics” services; some support investigative units.


County Law Enforcement Agencies


Sheriffs’ departments enforce the criminal law in most rural and unincorporated portions of the more than 3,000 counties in America. In most instances, sheriffs do not interfere in municipal law enforcement because most incorporated towns and cities have their own police forces. In addition to county law enforcement, sheriffs’ departments have two other major duties. They maintain the county jails, which hold pretrial detainees and most persons sentenced for misdemeanors. Finally, the sheriff is an officer of the county court. The sheriff’s office supplies bailiffs to provide security and management of detainees on trial, transport prisoners to and from court, and serve a range of court papers, such as summonses, forfeiture and eviction notices, and court judgments.


Municipal Police Departments


Local police departments make up the great bulk of law enforcement agencies in the United States. The New York City Police Department employs more than 37,000 officers. But most local police departments employ only a few people. Ten thousand of the nation’s departments employ fewer than 10 sworn officers. Many, such as the one in Empire, California, employ a single officer. In most of these small towns, crime is not a major problem.