Police Department

Police Department

Unlike most countries, there is no single police department in the United States; therefore, the term “US police” is used informally. Instead, each state, as well as each major city, and sometimes a smaller community, has its own police department, independent of the others. Own police departments may also be available at large transport enterprises.


The US police system arose under the influence of the democratic ideas of the 1776 Declaration of Independence and the principles of the Constitution of 1787.

In the United States, there are three levels of government: federal, state, and local; moreover, state authorities and local authorities initially enjoyed considerable autonomy.

By the beginning of the XX century, the following police system has developed:

  1. Police organizations in cities and towns;
  2. Sheriffs and agencies headed by them in the districts;
  3. State Police Forces.4. Police organizations of the federal government that were part of the Ministries of Justice, Posts, Treasury, Interior, Defense, etc.

The first permanent police department was established in 1845 in New York (New York City Police Department).

Police Structure

In the US, there are federal law enforcement agencies that are investigating federal crimes (FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Secret Service, Federal Marshals, Immigration and Customs Police, and some others).

But the main burden falls on the police states and cities. The head of the local police authority — the commissioner, the superintendent, or the police chief — is usually appointed by the mayor or local legislature, and is sometimes selected by popular vote.

At the county level, the head of the police department is usually called the sheriff. Sheriffs are almost universally elected to this position and are given the right to appoint deputies. The sheriff’s administration also maintains the county jail and ensures the security of the courtroom.

Police Powers

US law defines police powers as rights transferred by a state or a municipal government for the implementation of legislative regulation of civil interests, protection of safety, health, and all that concerns citizens, as well as for conducting preventive activities in relation to criminal offenses.

The exact terms of reference of the police are very difficult to determine since it is constantly updated in connection with the development of the level of public life, technology, the emergence of new state bodies or the reorganization of such.

Rules for the use of force by US police officers are formalized in the form of classifications of levels of force and resistance levels of subjects of use of force. Developed in the 1980s, these rules formed the basis for similar regulations in many countries.

Special Forces Units

Modern police formations often include special-purpose units to deal with problems of a specific nature (for example, SWAT units).

In most US cities, tactical units are specially trained and equipped to prevent riots and maintain order in emergency situations. The engineering brigades are in the state of constant readiness. They are used for mine clearance and disposal of explosive devices. For example, the sapper brigade of the New York City Police Department is widely known for its operational work in the investigation and prevention of terrorist actions using explosive devices.

Police Ranks

In the United States, ranks are not awarded on the basis of seniority or on certain merits. When a person enters the police, he gets the title of “officer”, which is the youngest and about 90% of police officers retire with him. The rank of “detective” is the junior rank, which is equal by status to the rank of officer. There are 3 classes of detectives, but at the same time, they are equal in status (classes are needed to show how long the detective has worked in the police and what his track record is).

The rank of sergeant is received by police officers working in the rank of “officer” for at least 3-5 years and who have passed the exams. Next comes the rank of lieutenant, captain.

Rank systems vary by state, but for example, in the New York Police Department, the system goes like this: officer/detective, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, inspector, chief (1, 2, 3-star), police chief, commissioner assistant, commissioner. However, in some states and offices, there may be intermediate ranks or ranks may be called differently, and the two highest ranks are occupied by civilians appointed by the mayor of the city or state governor.

Candidate Requirements for Police Service

  1. US citizenship;
  2. age over 21 years (most departments require a maximum age of 34-35 years but some do not have a maximum age requirement);
  3. no criminal record;
  4. the candidate must graduate from the police school;
  5. some departments require college or, instead, service in the US military.