Guide to Careers in Law Enforcement

If you have a passion for serving others, law enforcement offers several options. You could serve on the local level as a police officer or sheriff, work nationally as an FBI or CIA agent, or behind the scenes as a forensic science technician or forensic accountant. This short guide summarizes careers in law enforcement, provides sample agencies for each branch, and directs you to the education necessary for pursuing such careers. If you think a job in law enforcement sounds right for you, continue reading to learn how to get started.

Is a Career in Law Enforcement Right for You?

For many in the field, the satisfaction this job brings … leads to a rewarding career.

Important traits for any law enforcement professional include perceptivity, integrity, a passion for justice, and the ability to make quick, informed decisions. Many careers also require strenuous physical activity, so fitness is often an important factor too.

A career in law enforcement comes with several perks: competitive salaries with opportunities for raises and promotions, good benefits like health and dental insurance, and the satisfaction of serving others. At the same time, some of these jobs involve dangerous or demanding tasks, such as dealing with criminals and navigating through chaotic scenes. Many law enforcement professionals also have to work atypical hours, such as nights or holidays.

In the end, for many in the field, the satisfaction this job brings them outweighs the negatives and leads to a rewarding career.

Understanding Law Enforcement Careers

Understanding the differences between each role in law enforcement will help guide your career path. The following sections breakdown careers and agencies within the field.

State and Local Law Enforcement

The United States requires law enforcement officials at the state and local levels. These professionals handle crimes and situations that involve communities within the country. Local policemen and policewomen work within assigned cities and counties, while state officials oversee issues throughout the entire state. State police officers help stop crimes that take place on the highway or outside city limits.

Sample Agencies

Different agencies exist on the state and local levels: local police departments, sheriff’s departments, and state highway patrol. These officials handle crime on the local or state level, meaning they do not enforce federal offenses. When someone commits a federal crime, officials turn these issues over to a different agency, which allows for proper checks and balances.

Careers in State and Local Law Enforcement


Federal Law Enforcement

Careers in federal law enforcement involve investigating crimes and enforcing laws at the national level. Everyone must follow federal law in the United States, unlike state or local laws that only affect people in those regions. Crimes investigated by federal law enforcement officers often involve complex offenses and sometimes concern national security, such as border patrol or even counterterrorism. The following section discusses specific careers you can hold in law enforcement at the federal level.

Sample Agencies

Federal law enforcement professionals work through specific agencies that determine the work they do. These agencies include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security, Drug Enforcement Administration, and United States Marshals. Some federal employees engage in work that impacts the entire nation, while others focus on a specific area under federal control, such as National Park Rangers.

Several jobs operate behind the scenes, but some require extensive physical action. Without regard to location or role, these professionals work with federal law and ensure its proper enforcement. Federal and local employees hopefully complement each other to make the U.S. a safer place.



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