By Stephen Owsinski:
According to the US Census Bureau, America is teetering on approximately 324,000,000 citizens, roughly 900,000 of whom are law enforcement officers. Visitors and tourists fatten the head count in our country. Given the overall ratio, it is no wonder that the profession of law enforcement has all kinds of police spread across the American landscape. There are cops who specialize in a particular culture—some exclusively in transportation, some embedded in educational institutions, some in currency production, and even more in the kinds of varied landscapes that would make your head spin. Every base is covered by a cop shop.
There are all kinds of police agencies across the nation handling every kind of problem and challenge. All told, among federal, state, county, municipal, and “special” law enforcement agencies, there are approximately 18,000 police forces.
For issues confronting society, police officers are typically the go-to resort. In any jurisdiction, cops have a protocol and specific procedures for handling unique circumstances. In New York City, problems inherent in such a busy metropolis are expected. Take, for example, the NYC Sanitation Police. These armed, uniformed men and women patrol the city and deal with health and environmental law violations, including arrests. Conversely, the NYC Hospital Police Department provides site security and enforces law and order in health settings and medical institutions.
Then there are components of the NYPD with divisions encompassing everything from movie/television production cops (tons of major motion pictures filmed in their jurisdiction) to a police academy instructors unit (they run their own academy, with classes of 900+ recruits at one time). Naturally, each specialized subset of the NYPD has its own shoulder patch, and the entire range of police patches is a collector’s dream.
Some cities have a dedicated subway, bus, and airport terminal cadre of cops. New York, New Jersey, Boston, Los Angeles, and other cities have cops assigned to these places of commerce. Some transportation entities have their own police force, such as the Amtrak Police Department. I’m sure you guessed that the APD officers provide safety, security, and investigations pertaining to the passengers using railroad cars and properties owned by Amtrak. Vandalism to Amtrak trains? Amtrak cops are on the case.
Tribal police are usually armed, uniformed federal police officers since Indian reservations are under the public safety domain of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), a federal government department, and are uniquely exempt from certain procedures in recognition of Indian values and culture.
Many friends of mine are campus cops, patrolling and investigating crimes on the properties of both private and public colleges and universities. Since public universities are owned/operated by the state, their police officers are classified as state police officers to include state-wide authority and powers of arrest. Administratively, however, campus cops are largely relegated to concentrate and enforce laws on their home turf.
Environmentally, there are variations of federal and state law enforcement officers responsible for protecting our nation’s natural resources, investigating crimes (poaching, unlicensed fishing, off-season hunting), and arresting violators. There are several reality TV shows dedicated to filming these cops in natural habitats, affording glimpses of how they perform their unique duties. Also included under the environmental umbrella are park police; these police agencies are responsible for patrolling and securing national and state parks and enforcing all laws in the realm of using park grounds. Camping where a permit is required? Park police are going to investigate and deal with trespassers. Naturally, these cops have unique circumstances in their jurisdictions.
Who’s overseeing the money? Well, the US Mint Police is the answer. Having nothing to do with York peppermint patties, Mint cops hover over the federal institution making US currency of all types. Mint police are dedicated to the production and distribution phases. Bad money, such as counterfeit bills, is the responsibility of the US Secret Service. Both are federal police agencies. Similarly, the folks at the post offices who handle mail from across the globe are protected by the US Postal Inspection Service, America’s oldest federal police agency. Crimes such as mail fraud, theft, money laundering, sweepstakes fraud, and a host of others are either stamped out or investigated by US Mail cops.
Commerce is one of America’s lifelines, stimulating GDP via exporting and importing goods by trucks. As such, laws pertaining to commercial vehicle operation are enforced by states in the form of Commercial Motor Vehicle Enforcement police departments or some variation with the same purpose. Besides commercial vehicle operators’ laws, these cops investigate quite a number of contraband cases, since they are road-side or at weigh stations scrutinizing loads and real products often cloaking illegal ones.
Similarly, railway transportation of cargo requires oversight, safety, and security. The CSX Police Department handles these tremendous routes of railcars carrying billions in goods. Since most cargo railways traverse through public domain, law enforcement is essential. As you may suspect, vandals keep CSX cops busy with graffiti and/or investigations surrounding the markings of (ahem) railyard artists.
Hitting our country’s highways and byways are the troopers assigned to state highway patrol agencies—sometimes called “state police” with traffic enforcement as a main thrust. These are the uniformed officers in marked cars (usually) who stop cars for speeding, investigate traffic crashes, and render road-side aid (flat tires). Although they have state authority and jurisdiction, troopers generally stay on the roads and enforce traffic laws. However, traffic enforcement often leads to drug cases and other violations of criminal law.
Relatively synonymous with municipal police departments are county sheriffs’ offices. Essentially, sheriff’s office deputies have the same responsibilities as a city cop, except that deputy sheriffs have the added tasks of serving papers and enforcing civil laws such as evictions, foreclosures, and any civil writs. Moreover, sheriff’s deputies enjoy county-wide jurisdiction, whereas city cops are only responsible for public safety within city limits. States such as Georgia have county police departments as well as county sheriff’s offices—merely an administrative decision without relinquishing county-wide authority and responsibility. Uniquely, the Jacksonville (FL) Sheriff’s Office is a fusion of both sheriff and police; their uniform shoulder patch has the embroidered words “Office of the Sheriff” as well as “Jacksonville Police,” encompassing county-wide law enforcement services.
Similar to police detectives, there are inspectors general who are investigators in business suits responsible for vetting suspects involved in wrongdoing and separating out fact from fiction. Commonly, federal agencies have IGs, as do states. Many states have insurance departments with sworn investigators dealing with fraud and identity theft. Some states employ investigatory departments overseeing commerce executives, such as Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulations, which, under the Governor’s Office umbrella, is “charged with licensing and regulating businesses and professionals in the state of Florida.” Naturally, if someone violates state administrative codes, these men and women investigate cases of wrongdoing. Veterinarian operating without a license? These folks are on the case of any Dr. Dolittles who buck the system.
Some states have what I call mini-FBIs. Florida, for example, has its own version of the FBI. Under the authority of state governance, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement duties are implicit in its name. Akin to the FBI, FDLE agents are armed, attired in business suits, and have state-wide jurisdiction. FDLE investigations involve public integrity, computer crimes, fraud/economic crimes, domestic security threats, and child pornography networks. FDLE also serves as a guiding entity for law enforcement agencies throughout Florida, holding licensure (and revocation authority) for every cop in Florida.
Similar to state police are capitol police departments. Modeled after D.C., every state has its own version of capitol police guarding the state government hub and its peripheral premises. These are typically armed and uniformed cops; although they possess state jurisdiction, they are largely relegated to capitol property.
Lest we forget airspace, Federal Air Marshals are up in the clouds ensuring the safety and security of our commercial flights and the thousands of passengers who travel from city to city daily. As one may imagine, that makes for an unorthodox jurisdiction…but I am sure they have it covered applicably.
Also unique in the realm of law enforcement are fire marshals authorized to carry firearms and make arrests. They are either employed by police departments or fire departments and are specially trained in investigating suspicions surrounding fires, commonly enforcing arson statutes. I had a police academy cadet who was receiving his law enforcement training to subsequently commence his career as a fire marshal. Police and fire personnel overlap in jurisdictional domain, duties, and jailing suspected arsonists.
As you can see, there is an array of cops across our country ensuring national security in their own pie slice of America, all regulated and guided by the same Constitution by which we are governed. As diverse as America’s infrastructure and its citizens, it takes all kinds of police to keep our states united, safe, and secure, despite special territories, jurisdictional limits, suits, uniform colors, shoulder patch designs, and badge shapes.
No matter our dilemmas, law enforcement has an app for them.
Stephen Owsinski is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer.
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