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In the United States, law enforcement is ensured by different institutions. Based on this, it becomes clear that the police belong to such and operate at various organizational levels, each of which has different competencies, or organizational functions. Specifically, policing functions in the United States are performed at the local, state, and federal levels. Each of these entails different leadership characteristics and responsibilities. However, it becomes clear that all three levels share one major characteristic, namely promoting justice and equality among all people living within the country’s borders, and all Americans residing overseas.

Before focusing on the proposed analysis on the functions of each organizational level, it is pertinent to mention some generalities about the police in the United States. First, it is worthwhile noting that “there are approximately 18,760 total police agencies in the U.S. with approximately 940,275 employees and a combined annual budget of about $51 billion (year 2010)”.  In total, there are sixty different federal police agencies, most of which are adjunct to the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the Department of the Treasury (DOT). Going beyond the federal level, it is necessary to consider that at the state one, the United States has a multitude of state agencies, including Highway Patrols (twenty-six agencies) and the State Police (twenty-three agencies). Furthermore, there are thirty-five states in the country that carry “additional state agencies with limited purpose or special investigative powers”. Finally, thousands of local agencies operate to ensure security of people. Specifically, “there are about 15,000 municipal police departments in the United States”, 3,088 of which are sheriff ones. Based on these impressive figures, it becomes clear that the United States police force is the largest and the most complex one in the world.

Given the size and complexity of the country’s police, it logically follows that “no two police agencies in America are structured alike or function in the same way”. Notwithstanding this, it is possible to find some general differences and similarities between local, state, and federal agencies.

At the local organizational level, police agencies are divided into county and municipal. Sheriffs, who are usually elected through the popular vote, run county agencies; other officials include deputies, civilians, and special deputies (who are only used in special occasions, mostly for crowd control). In terms of policing functions, it should be noted that they include investigating crimes, ensuring traffic enforcement, civil process and paper service, courtroom security and confinement, and transporting prisoners.  Sheriffs, who are ultimately the highest authority at the local organizational level, have freedom in managing their agencies, although there are occasions, in which their leadership is conditioned either by partisan politics or by political patronage, given that they are elected officials).

Continuing with the analysis of the local organizational level, there are also municipal bodies, which include campus and transit police agencies. The national average for these municipal establishments is ten full-time officers, although this figure may be as low as one worker (depending on the size of the incorporated municipality). On the other hand, local agencies may be massive in size, employing thousands of full-time officers. A prime example of this is “the New York City Police Department with over 40,000 employees”.  In terms of policing functions, municipal agencies have the power to arrest suspects, being responsible for ensuring order and providing community services, which include investigating different kinds of crimes, namely homicides, burglaries, and thefts, resolving domestic disputes and noise complaints, or chasing criminals. Essentially, the local police are in charge of protecting people and property, enforcing the law, preventing crime, preserving peace, arresting felons, and serving the public. Therefore, local agencies are the foundation of the country’s police system.

The second police organizational level supports local establishments, namely state agencies. The latter were conceived to investigate crimes in counties, providing law enforcement, where there were no local police agencies, and controlling labor movement (including, though not limited to, breaking strikes). Over the years, state agencies have evolved into all-purpose enforcement institutions. In principle, it is a similarity between the local and state organizational levels. However, it should be noted that state agencies enjoy less managerial and operational freedom, due to they are generally accountable to governors. Another difference lies in the fact that all-purpose law enforcement competencies that state agencies have clearly demonstrate that they focus primarily on crimes committed in relation to state property, for example, roads, highways, and others. State agencies are more political than local ones, even though elected officials do not run them, unlike the case with sheriff departments). As well, it should be noted that being all-purpose in nature, the former are also in charge of performing the same functions as the latter, however, not at the local level, but in a wider geographical context.

Finally, there are also federal agencies (operating at the federal organizational level). Unlike the former two organizational levels, the federal one does not entail its institutions being all-purpose. In other words, these are empowered to enforce federal laws and investigate about two hundred types of federal crimes. The largest federal agencies currently operating in the United States are the following: the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service), the BOP (Bureau of Prisons), the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigations), Customs, and the Secret Service. It is worthwhile mentioning that they are not compelled to peace keeping or order maintenance duties, as it is generally the case with local and state agencies. Federal bodies are generally more politicized than all other institutions at the local and state levels, primarily due to the fact that the President of the United States with the consent of the Senate appoints top managerial positions, namely agency directors and commissioners. As well, federal agencies are more bureaucratic than almost all state and local organizations due to their massive size. Finally, it is important to mention that the former are generally involved in international affairs as well.

To sum up, as it can be seen, police functions vary at the local, state, and federal organizational levels. Each of these has distinct responsibilities and overall characteristics. However, going beyond these differences, it is very important to consider that all agencies are concerned with the safety of all people residing within the country’s borders, and in the particular case of federal institutions, American nationals residing overseas). The safety of the general public that is maintained through justice (which in turn leads to equality) is the fundamental objective of all law enforcement and police agencies. Also, it should be clear that police law enforcement in the United States is highly complex, certainly more than it is in any other country around the world. America has the biggest, the most powerful, resourceful, and efficient local, state, and federal agencies. It offers insurmountable advantages to the American people, although criminality runs high in the country, and other alternatives, namely education, should be considered.

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