State and Local Law Enforcement

While you can pursue a number of different criminal justice careers, most careers in the criminal justice field fall into one of four main areas. These four main areas include state and local law enforcement, federal law enforcement, the court system, and the scientific community. State and local law enforcement refers to all of the agencies charged with apprehending criminals or protecting individuals from criminals in a specific town, city, county, or state. Local law enforcement professionals typically work for a town, city, or county agency such as a local police department, a sheriff’s office, or another local agency. State law enforcement professionals typically work for a state agency such as a state police department, a state bureau of investigation (similar to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, except with jurisdiction over crimes committed only in a specific state), a state’s department of fish and game, a state’s department of public safety, or another state agency.

State and local law enforcement professionals may arrest suspects, direct traffic, interview witnesses, investigate crimes, issue warnings and citations for traffic violations, offer assistance to injured or endangered individuals, protect public buildings, protect large groups of people typically present at a public event, or carry out any of a variety of other tasks. However, state and local law enforcement professionals can perform these tasks only in the areas in which they have jurisdiction. As such, local law enforcement officers can perform these tasks only in the town, city, or county in which they work unless they have permission to perform these activities in another town, city, or county. State officers, on the other hand, can perform these tasks in any town, city, or county within the state in which they typically work, but they cannot perform these tasks outside of the state in which they typically work unless they have permission. For example, a state police officer from Texas has legal authority to arrest an individual in Texas, but he or she lacks authority to arrest an individual in any other state except Texas unless the officer receives permission to arrest from the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over that state in which the individual is currently located.


It is also important to note that local or state law enforcement agencies within a certain area are not the only agencies with jurisdiction over crimes committed in that area. Federal law enforcement officers, forensic teams (at the local, state, or federal level), officers of the court, and other individuals may have jurisdiction over certain types of crimes. As a result, in some cases the authority of a federal agency may supersede the authority of a local or state law enforcement agency. Furthermore, local and state law enforcement agencies may be required to work very closely with professionals from other areas within the criminal justice field. Often, local or state law enforcement agencies will collaborate with federal law enforcement professionals, professionals from the court system, and professionals from the scientific community on a regular basis in order to gather necessary evidence to prove criminals’ guilt and to ensure capture of criminals by appropriate authorities.