Local Law Enforcement: Types, Agencies & Roles

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  • 0:02 Local Law Enforcement
  • 0:49 Types
  • 2:19 Jurisdiction
  • 3:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

How do we make sure that people do not commit crimes? In this lesson, we'll examine local law enforcement, including their responsibilities, the main types of local law enforcement agencies, and their relationship with the state police.

Local Law Enforcement

Emma has been promoted to chief of police, and she's very excited. But she's also a little confused. She's not sure exactly what her duty is, as chief of police. She knows that her town has a small police force, and the chief is in charge of that force, but she also knows that there is a state police force. What's the difference in her staff and the state police?

Local law enforcement is tasked with the detection, investigation, and prevention of crime within a specific municipality or county in the United States. For example, Emma is chief of police of her town, so she (and the rest of her police force) are in charge of law enforcement within the town limits.

Let's look closer at the types of local law enforcement, and the jurisdiction and boundaries between local and state law enforcement.


So Emma is now chief of police for her local town, and a major part of local law enforcement. But are town police departments like hers all that there is to local law enforcement?

There are several different types of local law enforcement agencies, but the two most common types are municipal police and county sheriff's departments. Municipal police are in charge of patrol and investigations for a single town or city. Emma's police force is for her town, so they are a municipal police department. The word 'municipal' means 'relating to a town or city,' so a municipal police force consists of the police for a specific municipality.

County sheriff's departments are in charge of patrol of a county, as well as running the jails and courts in that county. For example, the county where Emma's town is located has several different towns in it. Though most of them have their own municipal police department, there might also be a county sheriff's department that deals with the county jails and courts.

But one of the towns in Emma's county doesn't have a municipal police force. It's such a small town that it is barely even a town at all! When a rural area is too sparsely populated to have a municipal police department, the county sheriff's department will also provide patrol and investigations for that area. In other words, if there isn't a municipal police force, the county sheriff's department will often do the job that a municipal police department would do, if it existed.


OK, Emma understands that, as town chief of police, she's part of the municipal police department, which is one of the two most common types of local law enforcement agencies. But there's also a state police force, and Emma is a little confused about what her department is in charge of and what the state police are in charge of.

Jurisdiction is the official power to make legal decisions and judgments. It is, essentially, who is in charge. For example, if there's a crime committed in Emma's town, the police department with jurisdiction is the one that's in charge, though other law enforcement agencies can help out with the investigation.

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