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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2014

    Different types of Law Enforcement

    So we all know that inquiries about what the differences between municipal, federal, and state LE agencies are and what there respective pros and cons are are pretty commonplace. I was thinking about what the best/simplest way to answer how LE agencies differ and it reminded me of some terms that I learned way back in Criminal Justice 101 that I think maybe are often overlooked? Isn't the best way to break down the differences between different LE agencies by first establishing whether it is "general purpose" or "special purpose"? I think many newcomers would benefit greatly by first being made aware of the differences between the two, because I feel like it is a much bigger determiner as to what kind of work an agency does compared to the difference of being a local or federal agency. For instance I think a university or airport police department and the Federal protective service (both special purpose) are both pretty similar even though one can be considered local and the other federal.

    For instance, in my own case I can say that once I understood the differences it definitely helped me make the decision that working for a "general purpose" city police department is what I want to do because I like the idea that the opportunity to do a little bit of everything exists. Contrast to if I worked for a "special purpose" federal criminal investigative agency and decided that I wanted to work traffic one day, that option wouldn't be there.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2000
    Western Hemisphere
    I'll bite. I'm going to say, from my experience/interpretation, that "special purpose" LE agencies are those whose mandate is to enforce and/or investigate a specific law or group of related laws. City, County, Airport & University PDs usually contain, among others, "General Patrol" divisions and "Criminal Investigative" divisions (CID). I would categorize those as "general purpose" since their largest division is always "General/Uniformed Patrol." The Georgia Composite Board of Medical Examiners and/or the Georgia Secretary of State have state mandated (power of arrest), armed criminal investigators whose duties consist of specifically investigating the conduct of physicians, dentists and anyone who prescribes pharmaceuticals to a patient; in accordance with the GA Controlled Substances Act. I would categorize this as "specific purpose." Another example is the GA Department of Revenue's Alcohol & Tax Enforcement Unit. These investigators are specifically mandated to enforce crimes related to tax violations. FPS has the specific mandate of protecting federal buildings/facilities. However, FPS also has (or at least had) a CID unit in most regions/offices whose duty consists of following up burglaries, etc. I think, for the sake of time, maybe your institution of higher learning was just simplifying the curriculum.
    Stay safe!


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    I definitely agree that agencies which are mandated to enforce a specific group of laws are special purpose. My point was that classifying agencies this way could be useful too (instead of just breaking them down by local, state, or federal). Now that I think about it maybe university PDs weren't a good example. I can see how they can be kinda general service-ish by having to respond to calls around the campus they patrol and the surrounding vicinity. You gave a better example though, state investigative agencies are definitely special purpose and have much more in common with some federal investigative agencies than their state police/patrol counterparts. Even at the local level you have the District Attorney's offices here in California which usually have a branch of "DA investigators" that are armed peace officers.



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