Skip to content
The following is for informational purposes only

US City Police Departments

Who are City Police Departments?

US City Police

City police are municipal police departments, controlled by the city government that keep the peace and enforce laws within highly populated metropolitan areas. Usually, metropolitan police forces operate under a chief of police or police commissioner and sometimes even a sheriff.

Cities often form metro police departments by combining multiple smaller police forces into one. This restructuring occurs when the cities grow more massive, and the need becomes more emergent. The reason for this is overpopulation and as a city expands it operates as a single conurbation. When this occurs, a more significant, more expansive police force is necessary to control the population, enforce laws and protect citizens.

New York and Washington D.C. both have sizeable metropolitan police forces with vast resources and a high number of officers each operating within different divisions and departments for optimal efficiency. New York’s police department alone has almost 40,000 officers employed.

City police departments are funded through the city budget and the mayor’s office, or a board of directors oversees the chief of police. Many have fewer legal powers than regular police departments.

Due to the differences of urban living, many metropolitan police departments have specialized divisions such as K9, harbor patrol, counter-terrorism, emergency services, air support, anti-organized crime unit, narcotics investigation, criminal intelligence units, bomb squads, public transportation safety, and public housing.



US City Police

The history of metropolitan police goes back to London in 1829. Like with many things, the U.S. adopted England’s law enforcement structure. The need for a city police department became apparent with the evolution of cities and increasing riots, violence, crime and other public disturbances.

One of the first city police forces was The Watchmen in Boston around 1631 and in New York (previously New Amsterdam) in 1647. During the early parts of the 19th-century swarms of German and Irish immigrants flooded U.S. cities, adding to the unrest and need for peace. American cities tried a version of the Constable and Night-Watch systems to overcome the situation. Public dissatisfaction was at an all-time high when in 1844, New York instituted their first police force. In 1845 Mayor William Havemeyer coined the phrase “New York’s Finest” to describe the city’s police force.

Quickly after that other cities like New Orleans, Cincinnati, Boston, Chicago, Baltimore, and Philadelphia followed suit and started their own city police departments. These early city police departments modeled themselves after the London Metropolitan Police force, which means they operated as a quasi-military structure. There were no detectives, and their main focus was on prevention of crime.

Eventually, individual police departments separated into divisions patrolling different sections of the city. This allowed the officers to connect with the community and regain control over the ethnic and economic rivalries. Officers formed intimate relationships with neighborhoods, and this connection helped to build trust and reform.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that city police departments instituted investigation units into their force to deal with corruption and organized crime.

City Police Departments vs. Cops

US City Police

City police also referred to as “beat cops” spend a lot of their time patrolling the city, watching out for crime, resolving disputes, preventing accidents and handing out citations. They also respond to emergencies, investigate traffic accidents and uphold criminal laws. They have the authority to do their jobs within the city limits and sometimes outside them in certain situations.

Local cops generally have to stay within a specific geographical location to perform their jobs and cannot cross jurisdictional lines.

City police officers also require a lot of specialized training and have to be certified in particular skills before they can work alone. City cops generally make more money than local police and the jobs are in high demand, especially in urban areas with high populations.


City Police Departments Types

Within city police departments there is a specific ranking structure. Every officer starts out as a "probationary police officer", or "recruit officer”. During that time the officer must attend and pass the Police Academy. Once they have completed training and 18-months as a probationary officer, they can graduate to become a “police officer” however veteran officers refer to them as “rookies”.

After that, an officer can choose one of three career paths, investigation, specialist or supervisor. An officer can climb up the ranks by taking the civil servant’s exam and become a sergeant, lieutenant, or captain. From there they can work their way up to become a deputy inspector, inspector, deputy chief, assistant chief, (bureau) chief and chief of the department. The police commissioner makes decisions on promotions to these ranks.

Some police officers choose to become detectives instead of beat cops. Detectives investigate things like murders, rapes, robberies, and burglaries. Other detectives work in specialized areas focused on terrorism, drug dealing, organized crime, political corruption, kidnappings, extortion, fraud or police corruption. Generally, beat cops have to spend at least 18 months working the streets before getting promoted to detective work. Within the detective system, there are grades of officers such as “detective second-grade”, and “detective first-grade”. Promotions are discretionary between the chief of police and police commissioner. Typically, a level up is also a bump in pay and benefits for the officer.

Access from any device, anywhere & anytime!