Law enforcement can take many different forms. Here is a general overview of some of the field-oriented paths in law enforcement.
Here you can also find out about the more investigative roles in criminal justice.
Uniformed Officer: This versatile role covers a wide range of duties within a variety of jurisdictions. Often the first members of law enforcement to engage the public, uniformed officers may initiate investigations via their regular patrols or by responding to calls.
In addition, these officers serve the public by monitoring and controlling traffic, administering first aid and helping civilians with neighborhood law enforcement. They may also be involved in specialized fields such as firearms instruction or fingerprint and handwriting analysis, or they may be part of a horseback, motorcycle, bicycle or harbor patrol unit. Of course, all police work involves keeping meticulous records, so in any field of police work, an eye for detail is critical.
Sheriff and Deputy Sheriff: These elected officers work within a county jurisdiction and are particularly important, as they may be the only arbiters of law in rural or unincorporated areas. A sheriff’s duties roughly parallel those of a city officer, including patrol, investigation and the arrest and transport of detainees. Although in some jurisdictions these duties may be carried out primarily by state or city police, the sheriff still retains policing powers. Sheriffs’ duties also extend to county courts, where they may serve as bailiff or carry out such tasks as ensuring the protection of the jury outside the courtroom, extraditing prisoners and enforcing court orders such as warrants and money decrees.
State Police: Also known as state troopers or highway patrol, these officers are the statewide highway and traffic authority. Operating in every US state except Hawaii, the state police issue traffic citations, detain law-breaking motorists and assist on the scenes of accidents, performing first aid or directing the flow of traffic. Also, state police may be called on to assist other organizations, especially in rural areas where local officers may be few.
Detective: These plainclothes officers are responsible for in-depth investigation and fact-finding on individual cases. This is one of the most involved areas of law enforcement, with detectives typically specializing in one particular field, such as homicide or fraud. Detectives can be expected to work on a single case until an arrest is made, a conviction is reached or the case is dropped. Their duties may range from researching records and interviewing witnesses to monitoring suspects and participating in raids and arrests.
Fish and Game Wardens: The wilderness is the jurisdiction of these officers, whose responsibility it is to enforce hunting, fishing and boating laws. Fish and game wardens carry out tasks such as search and rescue operations, regulating and monitoring boat traffic, responding to complaints and accidents and assisting in court proceedings for these areas.
Federal Officers: The federal government employs many types of police agencies, the principal one being the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). These officers investigate matters of federal law, including organized crime, bank robbery, kidnapping, terrorism, drug trafficking and cyber crimes, and they may carry out sensitive operations such as wire-taps, surveillance and undercover assignments. Other federal law organizations include the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the U.S. Marshals, which protect the American judicial system, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Another federal organization, the Department of Homeland Security, employs officers in border security and immigration affairs, as well as in the U.S. Secret Service.