People depend on police officers and detectives to protect their lives and property. Law enforcement officers perform these duties in a variety of ways depending on the size and type of their organization. In most jurisdictions, they are expected to exercise authority when necessary, whether on or off duty.
There are three basic types of law enforcement jobs; Uniformed Officer, Investigator, and Support positions. There are also three types of law enforcement agencies; local, state, and federal. All three types of law enforcement jobs are utilized at all three government levels of law enforcement agencies
Police and detectives held about 861,000 jobs in 2006. Seventy-nine percent were employed by local governments. State police agencies employed about 11 percent, and various Federal agencies employed about 7 percent.
Each agency has their own set of job requirements.
Uniformed police officers have general law enforcement duties, including maintaining regular patrols and responding to calls for service. They may direct traffic at the scene of an accident, investigate a burglary, or give first aid to an accident victim. In large police departments, officers usually are assigned to a specific type of duty. Many urban police agencies are involved in community policing—a practice in which an officer builds relationships with the citizens of local neighborhoods and mobilizes the public to help fight crime.
Uniformed officer jobs would be those of a local police officer, deputy sheriff, state trooper, or a border patrol agent. These officers have an enforcement role. Agencies which have uniformed officers also have investigative divisions, such as the homicide division of a local police department, or the narcotics division of a state trooper agency. While unformed officers may conduct investigations as part of their role, those in an investigative division may have a primary role of conducting criminal investigations. Officers move into these investigative positions through promotion and advancement. They are usually not hired directly to work in an investigation division.
Detectives are plainclothes investigators who gather facts and collect evidence for criminal cases. Some are assigned to interagency task forces to combat specific types of crime. They conduct interviews, examine records, observe the activities of suspects, and participate in raids or arrests. Detectives and State and Federal agents and inspectors usually specialize in investigating one type of violation, such as homicide or fraud. They are assigned cases on a rotating basis and work on them until an arrest and conviction is made or until the case is dropped.
There are agencies who conduct criminal investigations, rather than uniformed enforcement. An example of this would be the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, or the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. These personnel are usually Special Agents and in work plain cloths. These agencies hire people directly to become special agents and conduct criminal investigations. Some agencies have a separate uniformed division and an investigative division, such as the Secret Service. You may apply for each division separately, and if hired as a Special Agent, you will go directly into investigations.
There are numerous roles which support the investigations. This include evidence technicians ballistic examiners, crime lab technicians. Usually the role of investigating the crime scene is conducted by those in the investigative division of an agency, or uniformed officers. The role of inventorying the evidence may be done by an evidence technician, who may have been hired specifically for that role. These roles are often referred to as support positions. Some of these positions may have personnel who were hired specifically to work in that job. Some of these positions may be filled by officers or agents who have advanced through the ranks. These positions include:
Often these positions are with larger agencies and with crime labs