Should you go into local, state, or federal law enforcement? (2023)

If you have decided to pursue a career in law enforcement, there are many choices that you need to make. Before you start browsingjob openings, you need to determine the field of your specialization. Even if you decide to join apolicedepartment, there are possibilities to choose betweensworn and non-sworn positions. After you start as a patrol officer you can progress into various directions within the department.

There is yet another major choice that you need to make – should you join a local, state or federal law enforcement agency. At each level,thereare plenty of different positions and growth opportunities. The entry exams and requirements are similar. So, no matter what level of government you want to work for, it is important to be well prepared for the hiring process. Sgt Godoy has a very popular and highly rated onlinePolice Exam practice testto help you get a great score.

If you haven’t decided yet which is the area you want to go into, here are a few details about local, state and federal law enforcement jobs.

Local law enforcement career opportunities

Should you go into local, state, or federal law enforcement? (1)

Local law enforcement agencies include police departments and sheriff’s offices but are not limited to these only. Each state can have different agencies that you can join. Here is an example of the opportunities you may have, depending on your location:

  • City Police Department
  • CountySheriff’sOffice
  • Transit Authority Police
  • School District Police
  • Housing Authority Police
  • District Attorneys’ Office Investigators
  • Airport Police
  • Harbor Police
  • University Police
  • Hospital Police

If you want to pursue a career in locallaw enforcement, you need tobe ready to start in patrol. Your career will begin as a police officer and after a given period of time, you will be able to move to a different specialization. Depending on your experience and level of education you can become a detective, join theK-9 unit, SWAT or other specialty units.

One of the main advantages of working for a local law enforcement agency is that you do not have to move to another location in order to start your career or get a promotion.

City, town, and village police officers go on patrol, respond to calls for service, and conduct investigations. They have specialties such as property crimes, violent crimes, SWAT, and K-9. These departments can be very small, even just one officer, have a force of several thousand. The chief is hired by the local government.

County law enforcement is often a sheriff’s department, and the sheriff is usually an elected official. The entry-level position is that of deputy sheriff. The duties of the sheriff’s department are similar to that of a police department. They also include operating the county jail, escorting prisoners to and from court, as well as providing court security. Small cities and towns often contract with the sheriff’s department to provide law enforcement services for their area, eliminating the need to maintain their own police force.

Generally, you will have a lot of opportunities if you decide to join a local law enforcement agencies. With smaller agencies, you may have more opportunities to do a variety of different functions. With larger agencies, there are more opportunities to become involved in specialized units.

State law enforcement jobs

Should you go into local, state, or federal law enforcement? (2)

Most states have a law enforcement agency which includes state patrol. Also common is a state bureau of investigation. There are many other state level law enforcement agencies including departments which deal with narcotics, gambling, revenue, and alcohol. With some states thehighway patrol is under the state department of public safety. There is often a state bureau of investigation that falls under the state police, or under the attorney general’s office of the state.

State agencies also have uniformed patrol, which is often referred to as state troopers. Their main responsibility is to enforce traffic laws throughout the state, however, they may have other duties depending on the agency they work for. While in most cases, it is required to start your career as a state trooper, it is also possible to become an investigator at a state agency without prior law enforcement experience.

There are other state law enforcement agencies as well. Your options include working as a game warden or conservation officer, who have full police powers and their jurisdiction covers the entire state. Other possible employers are the capitol police, campus police, water police, state hospitals or the departments of corrections.

Starting your career at astate law enforcement agencyhas both its pros and cons. One of the main benefits is that there are lots of opportunities for advancement and career growth at a state level department. There is the possibility to start work as an investigator without previously having started in patrol. One of themajordrawbacks, however, is that you should be ready to relocatewithinthe state to get a promotion.If moving around is not an option for you,thenyou should seriously consider whether a local agency is a better option.

Of all state police, it is interesting to note that the Texas Rangers are considered to be the earliest form of state law enforcement in the U.S. The Rangers were organized by Stephen F. Austin in 1823 and were agroup of ten men who were responsible to protect the settlers from Indian attacks.

ThenthePennsylvania state police was formed in 1902 as a result of an anthracite mine strike. The New York State Police force was formed on April 11, 1917.

As a whole, you can see that byjoiningthe state law enforcement, you will embark on a career path with strong historical traditions.

The types and names of local and statelawenforcement agencies can varygreatlybetween the states. If you want to find a comprehensive list of all the agencies in the USA simply clickhere. The state of Hawaii is the only state in the USA that has nospecifically named state police/highway patrol force because of its specific geography. It is served by the policeforcesof its five counties.

Federal law enforcement careers

Should you go into local, state, or federal law enforcement? (3)

At the federal level, there are both federal police and federal special agents which operate at the highest level. The agencies have nationwide jurisdiction to enforce federal law. Therearenumerous federal agencies and you can find their full listhere. Some of the most notable ones are under the Department of Justice (DOJ). This includes the mostwell-knownagency – the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the United States Marshal Service and others.

There are a number of federal law enforcementagencies under the Department of HomelandSecurity (DHS). This includes the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS), United States Secret Service (USSS), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE),Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the United States Coast Guard (USCG).

The federal government has the power to deal with foreign affairs and interstate commerce, according to the USConstitution. The main task of federal law enforcement agencies is to maintain law and public order related to matters affecting the country as a whole.

Note that federal law enforcement also has a significant history in the country. It has been functioning for nearly two hundred years. The Postal Inspection Service is the oldest of all of the federal agencies. It can trace its origin back to 1772 when General Benjamin Franklin, the Colonial Postmaster, appointed a “surveyor” responsible for the regulation and audit of the mail. In other words, it can be said that the Postal Service is older than the United States themselves as it started functioning prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Federal agencies have entry-level investigative positions, without the requirement of initially working as patrol or as a uniformed officers. There is a requirement, however, of acollegedegree.

If you choose to work at a federal law enforcement level, you should be ready to relocate. Quite often promotions and advancement are related to accepting work in a different state. As a federal law enforcementofficer,you work throughout the country and all U.S. territories. You should be ready to travel a lot and work extra hours when needed. On the positive side, you have numerous opportunities for advancement within the system. You can grow in the agency you have started work with or continue your career in a different federal agency.

No matter if you choose to work for a local, state or federal law enforcement agency, it is clear that your job will be to serve and protect the community. Agencies at all levels work together to solve crimes. Pooling together their resources and working in a partnership is the best way to fight crime. Working as a law enforcement officer is a job that requires a lot of determination and working in dangerous conditions. But it is at the same time, it is a very rewarding profession. Choose the right local, state or federal law enforcement agency and start the dream job you have always wanted.


Should you go into local, state, or federal law enforcement? ›

So, local police usually have jurisdiction over crimes within that city, sheriffs have jurisdiction over the county, state troopers have jurisdiction over state roads and state-wide crimes, and federal policing agencies have jurisdiction over federal level crimes.

What is the difference between local state and federal law enforcement? ›

So, local police usually have jurisdiction over crimes within that city, sheriffs have jurisdiction over the county, state troopers have jurisdiction over state roads and state-wide crimes, and federal policing agencies have jurisdiction over federal level crimes.

What are the perks of being in federal law enforcement? ›

Working in federal law enforcement gives you access to a wide range of benefits. All federal employees receive health insurance, life insurance, social security and access to government retirement savings plans. Your agency may even help you pay off part of your student loans.

Is federal law enforcement or local law enforcement? ›

Local law enforcement agencies include police and sheriff departments. State agencies include the state or highway patrol. Federal agencies include the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service.

Is it hard to get into federal law enforcement? ›

Working in federal law enforcement has obvious benefits, but there are strict requirements and disqualifications that can make entry difficult. Additionally, top positions within federal agencies may be very competitive. How can you make sure you have the best chance at a career in federal law enforcement?

What is the most powerful law enforcement agency? ›

The United States Department of Justice was formerly the largest and is still the most prominent, collection of federal law enforcement agencies.

Does state law override federal? ›

The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution establishes that state laws are subordinate to federal laws and regulations. Put simply, federal law governs state law; however, this is only the case when federal and state laws conflict with one another.

What federal law enforcement makes the most money? ›

Highest Paying Law Enforcement Jobs
  • FBI Agent. ...
  • Criminal Lawyer. ...
  • Prison Warden. ...
  • First Line Supervisor. ...
  • Border Patrol Agent. ...
  • Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators. ...
  • Detective. ...
  • Probation Officers and Correction Treatment Specialists.

Which federal law enforcement agency hires the most? ›

FBI, CIA, & Home Land Security Jobs. Federal law enforcement jobs are available in most federal agencies. However, the largest numbers of law enforcement jobs are with the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice, Treasury, and Defense Departments.

What are the most elite federal law enforcement units? ›

The FBI's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT)—federal law enforcement's only full-time counterterrorism unit—is a highly trained group of special agents often called upon during the toughest times.

Is federal law enforcement the FBI? ›

What is the FBI's role in combating terrorism? The FBI is the nation's lead federal law enforcement agency for investigating and preventing acts of domestic and international terrorism.

Is the police higher than the FBI? ›

The FBI has its role as the custodian of US national security, and it will go to any extent to achieve that goal. The Police forces, on the other hand, perform the crucial arms and legs functions. If the FBI could be likened to the brain, the Police forces are the body parts which perform critical functions.

Are Texas Rangers higher than police? ›

General law enforcement at the state level known as Rangers is a type of law enforcement official only found in Texas. The Texas Rangers are at the top of the law enforcement pyramid in Texas and have a rich history, holding the title of the oldest law enforcement group in the country.

Does FBI like law enforcement experience? ›

A law enforcement or military background is not required. Because of the breadth and scope of the FBI's mission, it looks for candidates with a wide variety of backgrounds, not just law enforcement or military experience. The FBI seeks special agents with any occupation that requires a college degree.

What are the 4 levels of law enforcement? ›

Federal, state, county, and municipal law enforcement agenies. 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).

Is it hard to get fired from the federal government? ›

If all else fails, an employer may even agree to wipe any wrongdoing from the employee's records in exchange for a resignation. Although it is not impossible to fire a federal employee, it is notoriously difficult. Nevertheless, the process for firing a federal employee moves faster with more serious infractions.

What is the hardest federal law enforcement academy? ›

The Border Patrol Academy is recognized as having one of the most challenging curriculums in federal law enforcement.

What is the fastest law enforcement? ›

The Ford Police Interceptor EcoBoost Utility is the fastest Police car patrolling the highways.

Which police has the most power in state? ›

Karnataka scored an overall ranking of 6.38 out of 10 in justice delivery, the highest of any state or union territory in India. The Karnataka State Police (KSP) were ranked first for justice delivery in India, the recent 'India justice report' showed.

What is the difference between state and federal law? ›

Federal laws apply to everyone in the United States. State and local laws apply to people who live or work in a particular state, commonwealth, territory, county, city, municipality, town, township or village.

Where does federal law not apply? ›

While federal law applies to all 50 US states, state law is individual. Laws that are put in place in individual states do not apply to other states.

What is the 10th Amendment? ›

The Tenth Amendment says that the Federal Government only has those powers delegated in the Constitution. If it isn't listed, it belongs to the states or to the people.

Who gets paid more FBI or DEA? ›

In a four-year period, there were 22,800 crime authorizations (2011-2014). The FBI paid approximately $294 million (FY2012-2018), the DEA paid at least $237 million (FY2011-2015), and ATF paid approximately $17.2 million total (FY2012-2015) to informants.

What is the best job in police department? ›

Highest-paying police jobs
  • Security officer.
  • Security guard.
  • Patrol officer.
  • Legal assistant.
  • Correctional officer.
  • Crime scene technician.
  • Detective.
  • Paralegal.
Feb 3, 2023

What is the highest paying job in the world? ›

The Top 6 Highest Paying Jobs in the World
  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
  • General Surgeon.
  • Senior Software Engineer.
  • Investment Banker.
  • Data Scientist.
  • IT Systems Manager.
Mar 29, 2023

What is the hardest special forces in the US? ›

The most elite special operations forces in the U.S. are known as the Green Berets, and while that alone is enough to spark debate, there's great reasoning behind it. Training includes harsh mental and physical undertakings, including the school that's widely regarded as the hardest: Combat Diving.

Who has the best SWAT team in the US? ›

Today, the LAPD SWAT Team is known worldwide as one of the foremost police tactical units in contemporary law enforcement.

What is more elite than Delta Force? ›

Army Green Berets are among the most elite groups in the world, and provide a pipeline to higher units, like the Army's "Delta" CAG, and the CIA SAD. They have about as much street-cred as numbered SEALs and Force Recon, depending on who's doing the talking.

Can you tell your family you work for the FBI? ›

Most FBI agents and CIA case officers are not covert, so the majority have no issue with telling their families what they do, broadly speaking.

Do FBI agents carry guns off duty? ›

Those in specialized areas like the Hostage Rescue Teams may also be issued weapons that fit their duties. Agents are allowed to carry personal weapons, provided they do not violate the policies regarding firearms. Unless otherwise instructed, agents are required to be armed at all times.

What is the most elite job in the FBI? ›

Special Agents

The Special Agent is perhaps the best known career at the FBI. Special Agents are primarily responsible for enforcing federal statutes. They conduct criminal investigations, as well as investigations pertaining to national security.

What's more powerful CIA or FBI? ›

The FBI is sometimes called the biggest law enforcement agency on earth. Unlike the CIA, the FBI doesn't operate in countries outside of the U.S. The FBI is the enforcement and investigative arm of the United States Department of Justice. It has jurisdiction over 200+ categories of federal crimes.

Who does the CIA answer to? ›

The DCI's title now is "Director of the Central Intelligence Agency" (DCIA), serving as head of the CIA. Currently, the Central Intelligence Agency answers directly to the Director of National Intelligence, although the CIA Director may brief the President directly.

Why are Texas Rangers so special? ›

The Texas Rangers conduct major violent crime, public corruption, cold case and officer involved shooting investigations and oversee the department's border security and tactical and crisis negotiation programs.

What is a Texas Ranger salary? ›

As of Jun 8, 2023, the average annual pay for a Law Enforcement Ranger in Texas is $49,880 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $23.98 an hour. This is the equivalent of $959/week or $4,156/month.

Can a Texas Ranger pull you over? ›

They are federal law enforcement officers, with the same authority as FBI agents and US Marshals. If you commit a federal offense anywhere they have jurisdiction. For local and state offenses, the local law enforcement agency must authorize them to enforce local and state laws. Almost all do.

What is the cut off age for the FBI? ›

Eligibility Requirements

Be at least 23 years old. Apply before your 36th birthday unless you have veteran's preference or federal law enforcement experience.* Possess a valid driver's license.

What disqualifies you from joining the FBI? ›

Automatic Disqualifiers From Becoming an FBI Agent

Committed knowing or willful acts or activities intended to overthrow the United States government by force. Defaulted on a United States government-backed student loan. Violated the FBI's drug policy. Failed a urinalysis drug test administered by the FBI.

Can you join FBI with no experience? ›

FBI agents must also have at least two years of professional work experience, be able to pass medical and security clearances, and be willing to relocate to new locations around the world if necessary.

What is the lowest rank in law enforcement? ›

A Guide to Police Ranks in Order
  • Police Officer. A police officer is typically the lowest ranking officer, and also the most common type of law enforcement officer. ...
  • Police Detective. ...
  • Police Sergeant. ...
  • Police Lieutenant. ...
  • Police Captain. ...
  • Chief of Police.

What does local law enforcement do? ›

State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies

The primary purpose is to uphold the laws of the jurisdiction, provide patrol, and investigate local crimes. State Police / Highway Patrol – State police often perform police duties to include highway patrol and statewide investigations.

What are the six pillars of law enforcement? ›

Six pillars
  • Pillar 1 — Building trust and legitimacy.
  • Pillar 2 — Policy and oversight.
  • Pillar 3 — Technology and social media.
  • Pillar 4 — Community policing and crime reduction.
  • Pillar 5 — Officer training and education.
  • Pillar 6 — Officer safety and wellness.

Why I quit my federal job? ›

The main drivers, according to Pew, were lack of respect at work, no opportunities for growth, and undesirable pay. The 2021 Merit Principles Survey asked federal employees about the three issues Pew identified as well as respondents' intentions regarding quitting their jobs.

Do you lose federal retirement if fired? ›

Do Federal Employees Lose Their Retirement If They're Fired? The short answer is no. Unfortunately, the misconception that you can lose your federal retirement if fired persists even among federal employees.

Why can't federal workers get fired? ›

Once a federal employee passes their probationary period, they are considered a permanent employee. The employee can then only be removed for issues such as poor performance, misconduct, or medical inability to perform. Before removing the employee, the agency has to follow due process.

What is the difference between local state and federal jurisdiction? ›

State courts generally handle matters such as contract disputes, real estate disputes, estate cases, personal injury cases, and family law matters (divorce and child custody). Federal courts only have jurisdiction when there is a diversity of citizenship or when a federal question is presented.

Do local police have jurisdiction on federal property? ›

If land is owned exclusively, the federal government takes over all the law enforcement responsibilities. Federal officers and agents are responsible for handling all investigations and cases, and the local police do not come onto the facility to investigate or arrest suspects.

How are federal state and local levels of law enforcement alike? ›

The similarities include power to make arrests without warrant for some crimes; they all carry firearms and are trained in similar law enforcement skills. Most of them have the same form of military structure. They also all risk their lives to ensure the law is enforced.

What determines if a crime is federal or state? ›

Some factors that make a crime a federal offense are:

the criminal activity occurs in multiple states. the crime happened on federal property (like the robbery of a federal bank) a specific federal law was violated. the crime involves citizens from different states.

What are three example cases that would probably be heard in federal court? ›

More specifically, federal courts hear criminal, civil, and bankruptcy cases.

What are the advantages of federal court vs state court? ›

Advantages to federal court: Process is more streamlined, usually moves faster than state court. Electronic filing in all Federal Courts but only in some state courts – this saves on expenses. You get pre-disclosure of information up front before the lawsuit really gets going so you know better what the issues are.

What laws do local law enforcement enforce? ›

Local law enforcement agencies are responsible for zoning, renting laws, and local safety.

Can local police go out of their jurisdiction? ›

In specific cases, officers can make arrests outside their jurisdiction if: There has been a mutual agreement between law enforcement authorities that this is permissible. The arrest is the result of a pursuit that began in the officers' jurisdiction.

Does FBI have jurisdiction over local police? ›

In general, the FBI will become involved in a local law enforcement investigation or prosecution when an alleged offense falls under federal jurisdiction, when a crime is committed on federal property, when local law enforcement agencies request assistance, or when multiple jurisdictions are involved.

What crimes are federal jurisdiction? ›

These include violent offenses like assault, kidnapping, and homicide, as well as non-violent financial crimes. These federal statutes apply to offenses that occur in areas owned or administered directly by the federal government, or under direct federal authority.

Which is more important federal or state law? ›

US Constitution provides for a federal government superior to state governments in regard to enumerated powers. Federal law trumps any state law in explicit conflict. State law subservient to federal law in case of explicit conflict. If state law affords more rights to residents, the state law is presumed to prevail.

Which is more powerful state law or federal law? ›

Article VI, Paragraph 2 of the U.S. Constitution is commonly referred to as the Supremacy Clause. It establishes that the federal constitution, and federal law generally, take precedence over state laws, and even state constitutions.


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