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The following is for informational purposes only

US Federal Police

Who are Federal Police?

US Federal Police

Technically, according to the U.S. Constitution, America is forbidden from having a federal police force as the founding fathers wanted to keep policing to the state-level. However, due to the need to enforce laws and protect citizens, the federal government has woven together a group of specialized law enforcement agencies that act as federal police.

There are eight primary branches of federal police, each designated to rule over a specific area of crime or safety. They are, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE); Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF); Department of Homeland Security; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); U.S. Secret Service (USSS); and the U.S. Marshall Service (USMS).

United States law governs what each entity can do and their jurisdictional guidelines. Some branches also govern tribal and state codes as well. The Patriot Act of 2001 has drastically changed some of the duties and functions of these federal police agencies.

Some additional agencies that took on even more responsibility for homeland security after 9/11 are the Immigration and Customs Enforcement - Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).



US Federal Police

The first form of federal police was the Postal Inspection Service which began in 1772. Then in 1789, the U.S. Marshals were formed through the Judiciary Act of Sept. 24, 1789. These first federal police agents were given the power to execute federal judicial writs and process. They also routinely brought outlaws in to be court marshaled or executed.

The FBI is the second oldest form of federal police in the nation. The FBI was assembled on July 26, 1908, by Charles Bonaparte, the second Attorney General under Roosevelt and upon formation it included just 34 agents.

Federal Police vs. Cops

US Federal Police

The duties of federal police, regardless of the division and agency are extraordinarily specialized and tightly focused on one area of law enforcement.

Local and state police maintain the peace, protect the safety and security of citizens and respond to crime on a much smaller scale in their municipalities. They also have the power to arrest someone, perform searches and seize property, investigate crimes and respond in emergency situations. Sometimes they also interrogate suspects and provide testimony at trials.

The jobs of local police versus federal are very different. For example, the FBI and CIA may work on long-term investigations for many years gathering evidence to bring a criminal to justice. Local police may stop someone for drunk driving and hand out some other minor citations. Many federal police cannot arrest someone. Some simply gather facts, use high-tech equipment to monitor and enforce laws, but they do not operate as local police do. Local police work together with federal police in many instances. Generally, federal police have jurisdiction over local officers in high-risk cases like a hostage or terrorist situation.


Federal Police Types

Separated into dozens of specialized branches, federal police types vary and their jurisdictions and duties accordingly. The main eight branches are:

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) - the FBI is one of the oldest agencies of federal law enforcement. They are tasked with protecting the country against terrorists and intelligence threats. They also support local law enforcement when needed. Things like serial killers fall under the jurisdiction of the FBI.
  • Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) - the CIA is a clandestine group whose primary focus is to monitor and respond to foreign intelligence threats and to guard the nation’s security. They also work closely with the president on special projects and are highly involved in thwarting international terrorism.
  • Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) - the ICE is the second largest branch of federal police in the country. They fall under the direction of Homeland Security and enforce laws related to immigration, border control, customs, and trade. After the 9/11 attacks, ICE stepped up its border patrols to increase awareness for terrorists, and they often get involved in combatting international drug trade.
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) - the ATF is supervised by the U.S. Department of Justice and investigates illegal trafficking of drugs, alcohol, firearms, and explosives. They also enforce laws related to the unlawful sale or distribution of drugs and alcohol.
  • The Department of Homeland Security - is the third largest branch of federal police in the country. This division was created after the 9/11 attacks. Not only are they in charge of keeping the country safe from terrorism, but they also help respond to natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods.
  • U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) - the DEA monitors the illegal use, sale, and distribution of controlled substances like cocaine, marijuana, and heroin. This agency works closely with other federal police, local officers and foreign countries to enforce laws regarding trafficking of illegal drugs.
  • Secret Service’s (USSS) - the USSS protects the President of the United States and members of his family. They also protect the Vice President and other high-level government officials. They operate under the Department of Homeland Security and also enforce laws concerning counterfeiting and credit card fraud.
  • U.S. Marshall Service (USMS) - the USMS transfers federal prisoners and protects federal courts and judges. They also provide law enforcement in U.S. air carriers but do so in secret.
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