Law enforcement is a crucial element of our criminal justice system and plays a key role in keeping citizens safe and well.
Building trust between law enforcement and local communities is an ongoing job and one that is the foundation not only for the overall stability and safety of the nation, but also for ensuring that all policing services are delivered effectively, and, on another level, the overall integrity of our entire criminal justice system.
If police understand local communities, they have the ability to eliminate and avoid any dynamics that may potentially result in violence.
An understanding of those around them also helps to ensure that adequate resources can be deployed when and where they are needed and that collaborations can occur between police and community partners in order to keep the public safe.
Roles In Law Enforcement
Law enforcement is a wide-ranging and complex field, and there are a number of roles that are available. All of these come together to help protect the public and ensure their ongoing safety. Some of the most important roles include:
State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies
This is a major factor in law enforcement, and there are over 17,000 state and local law enforcement agencies across the USA, and the size of these can vary from a single officer to a department of over 30,000. These agencies come in different types:
These agencies cover municipal, tribal, county, and regional police, and these are all under the authority of a local governing body. The main function of local police is to uphold the laws of that particular jurisdiction, to investigate local crimes, and to provide patrols when needed.
State Police or Highway Patrol
State police are responsible for a number of public duties that typically include statewide investigations and highway patrol responsibilities. These agencies may also assist local police with any emergencies or investigations if required.
Special Jurisdiction Police
Special jurisdiction police will provide law enforcement services for a defined, specific area within another jurisdiction, such as transportation assets, schools, housing, and housing authorities, parks, and government buildings.
Another important agency within law enforcement is the sheriff’s office – the state grants these offices authority to enforce the state law, but at a local county level. Local jails will be run by deputy sheriffs, and they will also serve court summons and warrants, and respond to any calls that are outside of the jurisdiction of local police.
Departments of Law Enforcement
As well as specific roles, there are three broad, general categories that exist within the field of law enforcement, and these are uniformed officers, investigators, and support positions.
Uniformed officers operate in a more general role, and are responsible for responding to calls for help – they are at the front line of public safety. They may also direct traffic following a road accident, or if there is an obstruction causing excessive congestion.
You will also see uniformed officers at the scene of an accident, if you have been burgled, or responding to other minor crimes. Uniformed officers may be deputy sheriffs, state troopers, police officers, or border patrol agents. Larger departments may also have uniformed officers supporting investigations, but their primary role lies in enforcing and ensuring public safety.
Investigators in uniformed agencies are typically promoted from the ranks of uniformed officers, and for larger, independent agencies, they are picked from the public. As the name suggests, investigators are responsible for investigating crimes.
This involves gathering evidence, identifying criminals, and building a case to support successful prosecution, and investigators may be found at a crime scene, conducting interrogations and interviews, examining records, conducting raids, or testifying in court.
While there are some examples of uniformed law enforcement agencies investigating, most major cases will go to one of the larger agencies that focuses solely on conducting investigations – the best known is the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or the FBI.
The Secret Service is also noted here – this is unique in having both a uniformed division and an investigative division, and the process for application is intense.
Investigative officers are responsible for public safety by solving crimes and investigating offenses – their goal is to protect the public by removing dangerous criminals from the streets.
It is also worth noting that there are a number of important support positions within law enforcement, and each of these has its own role to play in public protection. Key examples include crime lab technicians, who will process evidence to uncover clues and explanations, and evidence technicians who record, process, and store evidence ready for trial.
Ballistic and firearms examiners are another important set of roles, as are experts who specialize in recreating a crime scene for an investigation.
Why Does Law Enforcement Matter?
The main goal of law enforcement is to try and ensure and maintain public safety, and this is achieved through the apprehension and prosecution of criminals, the investigation of criminal offenses, and supporting the victims of crime.
Being able to trust law enforcement is an important element of public safety; members of the public need to know that they have someone to go to when they need help, if they are attacked or threatened with attack, or if their property is damaged or stolen.
In a number of low-income neighborhoods, crime is prevalent, and there is often an inbuilt fear, suspicion, and mistrust of the police. This means that there are significant barriers to effective, long-lasting relationships – the people do not trust the police, and police fail to prove themselves to change this perfection.
A feeling of safety and security forms the foundation of a sense and feeling of confidence not only in an individual’s own life, but in the wider community, and even the wider world. When people do not feel safe, they live in constant fear, and this means that they cannot reach their full potential – fear and mistrust of the police, therefore, have wider consequences than one single individual.
The fault cannot be laid solely on the police, however – their role has grown and expanded in recent years, and many officers are not being asked to perform increasingly complex roles.
The scope and breadth of crime have expanded, and communities are demanding more of their law enforcement – but the resources and support that are required to achieve this are seriously lacking.
Tensions between law enforcement and communities are at an all-time high, and the responsibilities seem to continue to grow.
Law enforcement has come a long way from its origins in colonial times; here, law enforcement was seen as a purely localized act and would be carried out by part-time officers, who were privately funded by the communities they served.
On occasion, law enforcement would also be the responsibility of voluntary groups of citizens – the Texas Rangers are a force to have gone down in history and formed the foundation of the first state law enforcement agencies.
The first municipal police department was officially established in Boston in 1838, and this was followed by offices in New York City, New Orleans, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
Law enforcement continued to grow and develop to the structure that we are familiar with today, and new challenges and issues have emerged.
Ultimately, however, there is one clear goal that is at the heart of all law enforcement operations: to do what they can to protect and maintain public safety.