Federal Law Enforcement

Federal law enforcement refers to all of the agencies charged with apprehending criminals or protecting individuals from criminals who have violated federal law. In other words, federal law enforcement officers enforce laws set by the federal government of the United States. Federal law enforcement professionals typically work in federal agencies such as the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF); Department of Homeland Security (DHS); Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); Federal Protective Service (FPS); Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency; Internal Revenue Service (IRS); United States Marshal’s Service; United States Secret Service (USSS); or another federal agency.


Federal law enforcement professionals carry out many tasks. They may arrest suspects, interview witnesses, investigate federal crimes, link criminals with the larger criminal organizations or terrorist groups sponsoring them, or assist injured or endangered individuals. In addition, federal law enforcement professionals inspect businesses to ensure compliance with federal law; inspect planes, ships, and containers entering the country; protect federal buildings; protect prominent politicians such as the President of the United States or ambassadors from other countries; or carry out many other tasks. It is important to note, however, that a federal agency only has the authority to perform certain tasks. As a result, federal law enforcement professionals working for a given agency only can perform some of the tasks mentioned here. In other words, certain agencies have jurisdiction over certain crimes, and federal law enforcement professionals within each of these agencies can investigate and take action against only the specific crimes for which their agency has jurisdiction. For example, the ATF has the authority to investigate crimes related to alcohol, tobacco, or firearms, so an ATF agent can investigate a crime related to the illegal sale of alcohol or tobacco or illegal use of firearms or incendiary devices (explosives and incendiary devices typically are considered firearms for the purpose of the ATF’s jurisdiction.) However, an ATF agent cannot investigate crimes related to counterfeiting or foreign diplomats because the ATF lacks authority to investigate these crimes (these crimes typically fall under the jurisdiction of the USSS.)

In addition, a federal agency may not be the only agency with jurisdiction over a federal crime, since state law enforcement officers, forensic teams (at the local, state, or federal level), officers of the court, federal law enforcement officers from other federal agencies, and other individuals also may have jurisdiction over any given crime. A crime may fall under the jurisdiction of more than one federal agency or both a federal agency and a local or state agency. In certain cases, some federal agencies may share jurisdiction with other agencies because in some situations, determining which agency actually has jurisdiction can prove difficult or even impossible. Federal agencies, as a result, collaborate very closely with fellow agencies at the local, state, and federal level; with state and federal prosecutors and other members of the court; and with forensic scientists and other scientists to ensure apprehension and conviction of federal criminals