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Chapter 2: Law Enforcement Careers

As most criminal justice majors know, when people think about criminal justice careers they often think of police. We also know that a degree in criminal justice includes educational opportunities related to a variety of positions. What the general public, and many criminal justice majors, may not know is that law enforcement careers include a wide range of options.

Even the smallest communities are subject to the jurisdiction of state police, the county sheriff, and local police. Communities with large educational institutions also have campus police. State and federal agencies associated with parks and wildlife may provide another uniformed presence in many communities. We are also subject to the jurisdiction of numerous federal and/or state agencies responsible for the enforcement of laws related to drugs, firearms, workplace safety, financial transactions, and a wide range of other activities.

The following sections include brief descriptions of key agencies and the missions they perform. In many cases these descriptions have been provided by the agencies themselves. Learn more about the agencies and the range of employment options they offer by visiting the links included for each agency. We will begin with Federal agencies. Then we move to information about law enforcement agencies and careers at the local and state level.

General Links

Bureau of Justice Statistics


Bureau of Justice Statistics – Occupational Outlook Handbook

Community Policing Consortium


Federal Law Enforcement Statistics


Federal Law Enforcement Training Academy


International Association of Women Police


Law Enforcement Links Directory


NCJRS – Law Enforcement


Office of Community Oriented Policing





State and Local Law Enforcement Statistics

Federal Law Enforcement Careers

Federal Agencies offer a variety of employment opportunities. The following is far from an exhaustive list as nearly every federal agency has law enforcement capabilities and those who work in these agencies perform many roles. These roles may be limited by subject matter, geographic area, or the protection of specific assets. In other cases federal law enforcement positions include broad duties that cover many jurisdictions. Federal law enforcement positions may include standard "policing" functions, such as protection, prevention, arrest, and investigation. They may also include administrative, educational, community service, and other community-based activities.

Many federal agencies provide information about careers and often post current vacancies on their websites. In some cases these sites allow potential applicants to subscribe to a job alert service that will e-mail subscribers when positions become available. Another source for jobs with the United States Federal Government is "USAJOBS." Their site, which is found at http://usajobs.opm.gov, includes information on thousands of jobs and allows searchers to create and store a resume used for applying to federal job.

Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives

Description and Duties

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is a law enforcement agency within the U.S. Department of Justice. Its unique responsibilities include protecting the public and reducing violent crime. ATF enforces the Federal laws and regulations relating to alcohol and tobacco diversion, firearms, explosives, and arson. Formerly known as “The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms,” the mission of this agency was expanded with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.


Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives


ATF – Careers


Capital Police

Description and Duties

The United States Capital Police provide security for the Capitol Building. In addition to the protection of lives and property, the Capital Police investigate criminal acts and enforce traffic regulations throughout congressional buildings, parks, and thoroughfares. The Capital Police are also responsible for protecting Members of Congress, Officers of the United States Senate, United States House of Representatives, and their families. This protection role extends throughout the entire United States, its territories and possessions, and throughout the District of Columbia.


United States Capital Police


Capital Police Careers


Central Intelligence Agency

Description and Duties

The Central Intelligence Agency coordinates the nation’s intelligence activities by collecting, evaluating and disseminating intelligence that affects national security. Their role may also include covert action at the direction of the President. The CIA also engages in research, development, and deployment of technology used for intelligence purposes. Due to their independence from other agencies the CIA also serves as an independent source of analysis on topics of concern. They also work closely with the other intelligence organizations to ensure that the best possible intelligence is provided to intelligence consumers.




CIA Careers


CIA Careers – Student Opportunities

Description and Duties

The mission of the Border Patrol has been altered, and expanded, with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security but the primary focus of the Border Patrol remains unchanged---to detect and prevent the smuggling and unlawful entry of undocumented aliens into the United States and to apprehend those persons found in the United States in violation of the Immigration laws.


Customs and Border Patrol

Customs and Border Patrol Careers

Customs Careers

Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Department of State

Description and Duties

The Department of State has many positions that are related to criminal justice. The State Department employs special agents who work abroad to advise ambassadors on security issues and coordinate security programs. In the United States, agents investigate passport and visa fraud and protect the Secretary of State and visiting foreign dignitaries. The Department of State also employs security engineering officers who are responsible for technical and informational security at diplomatic and consular posts. Another career is that of "diplomatic courier." These couriers ensure the secure movement of classified U.S. Government material across international borders.


U.S. Department of State


Department of State Career Options


Department of State Career Opportunities


Drug Enforcement Agency

Description and Duties

The DEA enforces the controlled substances laws and regulations of the United States. The DEA's primary responsibilities include investigation and preparation for the prosecution of major violators of controlled substance laws operating at interstate and international levels, investigation and preparation for prosecution of those who perpetrate drug related violence in our communities, and management of a national drug intelligence program. Other primary responsibilities include oversight related to the manufacture, distribution, and dispensing of legally produced controlled substances; asset forfeiture; programs designed to reduce the availability of illicit abuse-type drugs on the United States market through non enforcement methods; and coordination, with other government agencies, of drug enforcement programs throughout the world.




DEA Careers


DEA Community Relations


Federal Bureau of Investigation

Description and Duties

FBI responsibilities include protecting the United States and its citizens from terrorist attacks, foreign intelligence operations and espionage, cyber-based attacks and high-technology crime, public corruption, global and national crime organizations, and significant white-collar and violent crime. This mission entails upholding the law through the investigation of terrorists and terrorist-related activity; protecting the United States from foreign intelligence activities; investigating violations of federal criminal law; providing leadership and law enforcement assistance to federal, state, local and international agencies; and providing the Executive Branch with information relating to national security. Positions with the FBI include computer specialists, crime scene specialists, linguists, fingerprint expert, intelligence research specialists, laboratory technicians, accounting professionals, and more.




FBI Careers


Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Outlook Handbook


Fish and Wildlife Service

Description and Duties

Fish and Wildlife Service Officers are criminal investigators who enforce Federal wildlife laws throughout the United States. Their investigations may include activities such as surveillance, undercover work, making arrests, and preparing cases for court. These officers often work with other law enforcement authorities to enforce traditional migratory bird regulations and investigate major commercial activities involving illegal trade in protected wildlife. Some agents work at border ports where they enforce Federal laws protecting domestic and foreign wildlife species that enter into interstate and international commerce.


Fish and Wildlife Service


Fish and Wildlife Service Careers


Federal Wildlife Officers Association


Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Description and Duties

The mission of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is to prevent acts of terrorism by targeting the people, money, and materials that support terrorist and criminal activities. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, is responsible for identifying and shutting down vulnerabilities in the nation’s border, economic, transportation and infrastructure security.


Immigration and Customs Enforcement


Immigration and Customs Enforcement Careers


Internal Revenue Service

Description and Duties

Internal Revenue Service agents typically possess a combination of accounting and law enforcement skills. IRS agents investigate complex financial crimes associated with tax evasion, money laundering, narcotics, organized crime, and public corruption.




IRS Careers


IRS Law Enforcement Careers


National Park Service

Description and Duties

Park police and uniformed guards are primarily responsible for the protection of park service properties in the capital region. While law enforcement positions are available in National Parks throughout the country, most positions are in urban areas. Park Rangers are located at facilities throughout the country and are responsible for education, property protection, law enforcement, and a wide range of administrative duties. The National Park Service is also responsible for coordinating fire management, prevention, and suppression.


National Park Service


National Park Service Careers


National Park Service Fire Careers


NPS Digest


Postal Inspector

Postal Inspectors are federal law enforcement officers with investigative jurisdiction in all criminal matters involving the integrity of the mail and the security of the U.S. Postal Service. Postal Inspectors investigate criminal and civil violations of postal laws and protect the revenue and assets of the U.S. Postal Service. Inspectors carry firearms, make arrests, testify in court, serve subpoenas, and write comprehensive reports.


United States Postal Service


USPS Careers


Secret Service

Description and Duties

The United States Secret Service is mandated by statute and executive order to carry out two significant missions: protection and criminal investigations. The Secret Service protects the President and Vice President, their families, heads of state, and other designated individuals. They also investigate threats and protect the White House, Vice President’s Residence, Foreign Missions, and other buildings within Washington, D.C. The Secret Service also plans and implements security procedures for designated events. The Secret Service investigates violations of laws relating to counterfeiting of obligations and securities of the United States and lead investigations related to financial crimes that include, but are not limited to, access device fraud, financial institution fraud, identity theft, computer fraud, and computer-based attacks on financial, banking, and telecommunications infrastructure.


United States Secret Service


Secret Service Careers


United States Marshal

Description and Duties

The Marshals Service is involved in virtually every federal law enforcement initiative. They are responsible for judicial security, which includes day-to-day protection as well as participation in the design of federal courthouses to ensure the safety of the public and court personnel. The Marshals Service is also involved with fugitive investigations and executes more arrests warrants than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. The Marshals office is the primary agency to apprehend fugitives that are wanted by foreign nations and believed to be in the United States. They Marshals Service also extradites fugitives who are apprehended in foreign countries and are wanted for prosecution in the United States. The Marshals service is also responsible for witness security, prisoner services, prisoner and alien transportation, managing and disposing of forfeited assets, and a range of addition duties.


United States Marshals Service


U.S. Marshals Service Careers


State and Local Law Enforcement Careers

The agencies listed below are active at the state or local level in many communities. In some cases their jurisdiction is limited to geographic or institutional boundaries. In other cases the agencies have specific responsibilities related to state property or activities performed at state and local levels.

In contrast to the federal agencies listed above, there is no single point of information for each agency. For example, the state police of every state maintain their own web site. The descriptions below provide an overview of job descriptions and duties. Links that follow each description provide information about each career, but it is not possible to include links to each agency. Consider these links as a sample of what is available. Once you look through these links you should have enough information to complete a web search for information that is more specific to your needs.

Another good source for career information is the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics site (http://www.bls.gov). This site includes searchable information on many careers and includes job descriptions, salary ranges, and other information about career options. This site also includes the Occupational Career Handbook (http://www.bls.gov/oco/home.htm), which provides detailed information on many law enforcement careers.

Campus Police Officer

Description and Duties

Campus police officers have limited jurisdiction. Their primary role is to provide security for faculty, staff, students, and visitors within an assigned area of the University campus. Campus police may provide escort services and other public assistance to the campus community. Officers also perform routine security and public safety patrol duties and may also be responsible for investigating issues related to asset loss on campus. Campus police patrol the campus on foot, bicycle, or motorized vehicles. Depending on campus regulations, these officers may carry firearms and may be active involved in the investigation of crimes that occur on campus.


International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators


Security on Campus


Campus Law Enforcement Statistics


Fish and Game Officer

Description and Duties

Fish and game officers enforce laws and regulations designed to protect and conserve fish and wildlife. Game wardens warn, cite, and arrest individuals suspected of violations. They may also seize the fish, game, and equipment connected with the violation. These officers also collect information and report on the condition of fish and wildlife. Duties may also include hunter education, rescue, monitoring of environmental hazards, and a range of other activities.


North American Wildlife Enforcement Officers Association


Federal Wildlife Officers Association – State Links


Motor Carrier Enforcement

Description and Duties

Each state has its own criteria for enforcement of the laws regulating the trucking industry. Motor carrier enforcement officers are also charged with enforcing federal regulations. These regulations are primarily concerned with safety on the highways. Other concerns may include the protection of revenue and agricultural resources.

Weigh stations along major highways are the most obvious presence of motor carrier enforcement. These weigh stations are designed to verify that tractor-trailer units do not exceed the maximum gross weight or axle limitations. Vehicles and paperwork are also inspected to be sure that all inspections, safety logs, and other required documentation is in order. Enforcement officers also patrol highways and can stop vehicles for inspection, either randomly or for cause. Motor carrier enforcement and inspection agencies are often a branch of the State Police. In other states these agencies are independent or are included in the Department of Transportation or other agency.


Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration


Iowa Department of Transportation


Kansas Highway Patrol


Police Officers and Detectives

Description and Duties

Police officers in municipal police departments of various sizes, small communities, and rural areas have general law enforcement duties including maintaining regular patrols, traffic patrol, and responding to service calls. Agencies are usually organized into geographic districts, with uniformed officers assigned to patrol a specific area, such as part of the business district or outlying residential neighborhoods. Officers may work alone, but in large agencies they often patrol with a partner. In large departments, officers are typically assigned to a specific type of duty. Some police officers specialize in such diverse fields as chemical and microscopic analysis, training and firearms instruction, or handwriting and fingerprint identification. Others work with special units such as horseback, bicycle, motorcycle or harbor patrol, canine corps, or special weapons and tactics, or emergency response teams. Police officers and detectives write reports and maintain meticulous records used to assist in the prosecution of crimes.


Bureau of Labor Statistics – Occupational Outlook Handbook






Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs

Description and Duties

The Sheriffs' department typically enforces laws within a jurisdiction limited to county boundaries. The County Sheriff is typically an elected position. Deputies are uniformed officers who work for the Sheriffs' department. These departments tend to be relatively small, most having fewer than 25 sworn officers. Various county agencies, along with governing bodies, determine whether jurisdiction overlaps within city limits, on campus, on interstates, and other places in the county. In some cases county deputies cover all areas while in other cases their jurisdiction is limited to rural and other unincorporated areas of the county in which they are located. The Sheriff is often responsible for maintaining facilities that are used for the temporary housing of local prisoners. As such, this law enforcement position may also have corrections related responsibilities.


United States Deputy Sheriff Association


National Sheriffs Association


American Deputy Sheriffs Association


Corrections.com – County Sheriff’s Offices


State Police

Description and Duties

State police officers have statewide jurisdiction over criminal and traffic laws. State police, who may also be known as troopers or highway patrol, issue traffic citations to motorists who violate the law. They also respond to traffic accidents and investigate the cause of accidents. In addition to highway patrol, state police officers investigate crime, perform court-related duties, and work in administrative or other assignments.


Directory of State Patrol and State Police


National Troopers Coalition


Officer.com – Links to State Agencies


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