Criminal Justice Term Paper Example


The system of law enforcement in the USA is complicated and includes the engagement of a vast personnel base. The division into three main branches, which are local, state and federal, is the basis for constant criticism of the agency as the borders of jurisdiction are often not exact and too many people can be involved in the same activity. At the same time, the law enforcement is considered to be inefficient. The critics of the modern police system propose to join the branches. However, the functions of the agencies representing each level of the enforcement are different, and the responsibilities they share within their institutions cannot be joined.

Keywords: law enforcement, police, federal agencies, state agencies, local agencies.


The Investigation on Local, State, and Federal Police Agencies

The system of law enforcement in the USA is diverse as it is implemented with the help of a great number of agencies. They differ in the size, the amount of staff, the zone of functions and the responsibility. The main three branches introducing the police system are federal, state and local and are represented by numerous agencies. State and local police agencies include Deputy Sheriffs Special, Jurisdiction Police, State Police or Highway Patrol, and Local Police (, n.d.). As long as police response, patrol and the criminal investigation are held to a certain degree by all the agencies, but the more serious enforcement or investigation needs to be done, the more global agency controls it. The cooperation between the agencies of different levels takes place in the system, though the sharing of functions and lack of interaction often leads to the gaps in handling crimes or, on the contrary, gets too many people from different agencies involved.

The data, presented by David H. McElreath et al. (2013) shows that the greatest number of agencies and the personnel, correspondingly, belongs to the local law enforcement. The total number of full-time employees was about 593,000, and 460,000 of them sworn, according to the analysis of data in 2008. The total number of part-time employees counted about 58,000 officers (McElreath et al., 2013). The original purpose of the local agencies is to provide patrol, apply the laws of the jurisdiction and investigate local crimes. Societal order and deterring crime are the objectives of this organization, as well, regardless their suiting to urban policing or some rural incidents.

A more distinct division into rural and urban models is identified in state-level law enforcement. These agencies are represented by 49 primary ones in each state of the country, except Hawaii. Approximately 58,000 full-time sworn employees are involved in field operations regarding patrol, investigations, and special operations. Communication, fleet management, and training are the spheres in which the state officers perform dispatching, data processing, record keeping and the range of other operations regarding technical support, which are the traditional duties. However, the institution of state law enforcement empowers its agencies to be in charge of training academies, forensic laboratories, and other special units. The duties like these are not shared by the local agencies (McElreath et al., 2013).

The state agencies are divided due to their functions and range of responsibilities into those having general police jurisdiction and restricted one. The examples of both types are considered by McElreath et al. (2013). The Pennsylvania State Police and Michigan State Police are shown as the agencies given the power to enforce all the laws of their states. The Mississippi Highway Patrol is discussed as the agency with restricted jurisdiction, which proves the difference between the functions within one institution (McElreath et al., 2013). The sheriffs' agencies, which are also related to local agencies, can differ in their functions, equipment, and responsibilities. In some states, they do not provide police patrol but a variety of other related services: running jails, guarding courtrooms, providing canine service or undercover deputies. Also, their officers take part in the investigations with local police agencies.

Federal Law Enforcement is the institution that, in general, has the same objective as the local and state agencies, and it reflects in maintaining order and deterring crime. However, federal agencies are grouped according to more specific spheres like Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Department of Treasury, and some others. The investigations held by these Bureaus concern the safety of the country and the crimes regarding a big amount of people or groups of people throughout the country (McElreath et al., 2013).

The federal law enforcement evolved according to the special political needs, and correspondingly, its activities are restricted to a certain number and peculiarities of crimes. The Bureaus that have the status of federal and were described above have their own objectives. As it was researched by Gaines and Kappeler (2015), the U.S. Forest Service officers guard the National Forest lands and sources. They are investigating the cases concerning property, visitors and employees of the territories the agency is governing. The other example can be the Department of Homeland Security, which is represented by several federal agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Federal Emergency Management Agency, Security Branch.

Each of the agencies has its objective, and, thus, their responsibilities differ, as well as the jurisdiction. The first one of them has the objective to protect the borders at official ports of entry. Air and marine officers serve in this agency and protect the country dwellers from terrorism, contrabands and crimes on the nation’s land at the sea borders. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is represented by the uniformed agents, guarding the population on the subjects of illegal arms export, terrorism, child exploitation and a range of other crimes. Their duties are investigation, identification, arrest, prosecution, detention and deportation.

Thus, the duties, as it can be seen, leave the borders of patrolling and maintaining order as it is relating to the local agencies. It should be also stated that the functions of separate institutions can coincide as in two cases discussed above. Both agencies observe and deal with terrorism. Therefore, a particular situation can involve the representatives from both agencies. Customs Enforcement and Federal Emergency Management Agency, Security Branch is represented in relation to homeland department. The primary duties of the officers of Customs Enforcement and Federal Emergency Management Agency, Security Branch, involve the protection of the personnel, facilities, and information. Therefore, one department includes three primary agencies. Additionally, there are agencies of non- federal level related to the same functions (Gaines and Kappeler, 2015).

The fragmentation of American law enforcement is often criticized because of the need to distinguish the jurisdiction and the number of agencies. It appears that one case can be policed by different agencies and such circumstance can lead to the appearance of obstacles during the investigation. The case represented by Gaines and Kappeler (2015) discusses the possibility of a large drug operation, which is the very case for the potential involvement of city police, state police, the FBI and several others. The inefficiency could take place because of too many agencies and too much coordination to be made. The problem of overlapping jurisdiction is not very frequent, but when it happens, the conflicts occur.

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The reasons for criticism are obvious. However, on the other hand, the territory of the country and the number of the population requires the system of law enforcement to be diverse. The variations in size, type, and function are not combined into one ideal system so easily. The difference between various agencies appears to be not only in functions but the number and role of the officers serving there. The majority of the general-purpose local police departments are small, with less than twenty-five full-time sworn officers, or employing fewer than five officers, and even relying on only part-time officers (Dempsey & Forst, 2014). Moreover, federal agencies usually have more trained officers, which possess more professional skills than the officers in small departments.

It should be also noticed that he Bureaus interact not only in cases of common operations but regarding different data on a daily basis. The research represented by Taylor, Epper,& Tolman(1998) indicates the percentage of daily and weekly interoperability events with federal, state, and local organizations. According to them, “93 percent of all responding agencies interoperate with local organizations, 63 percent with state-level organizations, and 15 percent with federal-level organizations.” (Taylor, Epper, & Tolman, 1998) Thus, state agencies appeared to interoperate with the highest number of institutions, including both local and federal ones on a regular basis.


Thus, the system of law enforcement in the USA is rather complicated, fragmented and diverse. Three main branches, including a high number of agencies, are local law enforcement, state law enforcement and the federal one. However, despite the distribution of the police force, their main duties remain similar: preserving the public peace, detecting and preventing crime, ensuring the regulation of mass gatherings and processions, preserve order in the society, protection of property among other duties. Nevertheless, the main common function of the police is the protection of law and order, as well as the security of the citizens. The agencies providing service to the population within each of the branches also differ. The difference is in the number of personnel, their skills, functions and zone of responsibilities. The interaction between the representatives of three branches is inevitable and takes place on the daily basis. The medium branch is state law enforcement, which has the greatest interoperability. The interaction between the branches is often criticized as there occur the situations when their jurisdictions overlap.

However, their functions are accurately distinguished, which is a positive side of the fragmentation, the existence of which is inevitable these days. While the research on this topic, the objectives of different departments were distinguished and it became clear that, often, the agencies have no clear borders of their responsibilities. Thus, they have to make a kind of bargains on the subject of being responsible for the case. That is not the best way out when it concerns the criminal responsibility, as well as all other kinds of duties. It is the main sphere in which certain clarifications need to be made.

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