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Importance of Police Officers, Law Enforcement Officers, Detectives and Special Agents

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Nature of the Work

Police officers, detectives, and special agents are responsible for enforcing statutes, laws, and regulations designed to protect life and property. Police, detectives, and special agents maintain law and order. Workers in related occupations include correctional officers, guards, fire marshals, and inspectors.

Many law enforcement officers spend much of their time interviewing witnesses and suspects, apprehending fugitives and criminals, collecting evidence, and providing testimony in court. After being incarcerated, many individuals are held under the care of correctional officers. Others spend most c their time patrolling a designated area to preserve the peace and to prevent crime. They resolve problems within the community and enforce laws governing motor vehicle operations. All law enforcement officers are required to file reports of their activities, often involving long hours of paperwork. In most jurisdictions, these officers are expected to exercise their authority whenever it is necessary - whether on or off duty.

In recent years, American voters have expressed their desire for government to place increasing emphasis on law enforcement efforts to reduce serious crime. As one response to serious crime, law enforcement officers are becoming more involved in community policing-building partnerships with the citizens of high-crime, urban neighborhoods, thus increasing public confidence in the police and mobilizing the public to help the police fight crime. Through the use of government, volunteer, and commercial resources, police encourage people in the community to help identify and solve recurring problems. This involves making the police officer a permanent, highly visible figure in the neighborhood rather than merely an officer reacting to a crime.

Police officers and detectives who work in small communities and rural areas have general law enforcement duties. Large police departments and federal agencies, officers and special agents usually are assigned to a specific detail for a fixed length of time. Some may become experts in chemical and microscopic analysis, firearms identification, handwriting and fingerprint identification, or serve on mounted and motorcycle patrol, arbor patrol, canine corps, special weapons and tactics or emergency response teams, or task forces formed to combat specific types of crime.

Sheriffs and deputy sheriffs generally enforce the law in rural areas or places where there is no local police department. They may serve legal processes of courts. Sheriffs' duties resemble those of local or county police departments, but generally on a jailer scale. Most sheriffs' departments employ fewer than 25 officers, and many employ fewer than 10.

Detectives and special agents work as plainclothes investigators, gathering facts and collecting evidence for criminal cases. They conduct interviews, examine records, observe the activities "suspects, and participate in raids or arrests.

Special agents employed by the U.S. Department of Justice work for the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Border Patrol, and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agents specialize in enforcement of drug laws and regulations. Agents lay conduct complex criminal investigations, carry out surveillance of criminals, and infiltrate illicit drug organizations using undercover techniques. They may work closely with confidential juices of information to collect evidence leading to the seizure of assets gained from the sale of illegal drugs.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agents are government's principal investigators, responsible for investigating violations of more than 260 statutes. Agents may be required to do surveillance, monitor court-authorized wiretaps, examine business records to investigate white-collar crime, track interstate movement of stolen property, collect evidence of espionage activities, or be assigned to sensitive undercover assignments designed to apprehend terrorists. Some special agents investigate violations of federal laws in connection with bank robberies, theft of government property, organized crime, espionage, sabotage, kidnapping, and terrorism. Agents with special-zed training usually work on cases related to their background. For example, agents with an accounting background may investigate bank embezzlements or fraudulent bankruptcies.

U.S. marshals and deputy marshals provide security for Federal courts, including judges, witnesses, and prisoners. They apprehend fugitives and operate the Special Operations Group SOG)-a tactical unit which responds to high-threat and emergency situations. Some deputies provide security to the Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force during movements of missiles between military facilities.

U.S. Border Patrol special agents are responsible for protecting more than 8,000 miles of international land and water boundaries. Their primary mission is to detect and prevent the smuggling and unlawful entry of undocumented aliens into the United States and to apprehend those persons found in violation of the immigration laws. The Border Patrol is the primary interdicting agency along the land borders between the ports of entry for illicit drugs and various contrabands. They accomplish their mission through activities such as: tracking, traffic checks on roads and highways leading away from the border, and participating in various task force operations with other law enforcement agencies.

Special agents employed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury work for The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Fire-arms, the U.S. Customs Service, Internal Revenue Service, and U.S. Secret Service.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) special agents investigate violations of federal explosives laws, including bombings and arson-for-profit schemes affecting interstate commerce. They may investigate suspected illegal sales, possession, or use of firearms. Other BATF agents investigate violations related to the illegal sale of liquor and interstate smuggling of untaxed cigarettes. These investigations involve surveillance, participation in raids, interviewing suspects, and searching for physical evidence.

Customs agents enforce laws to prevent smuggling of goods across U.S. borders.

Internal Revenue Service special agents collect evidence against individuals and companies that are evading the payment of federal taxes.

U.S. Secret Service special agents are charged with two main missions-protection and investigation. During the course of their careers, they may be assigned to protect the President, Vice President, and their immediate families, presidential candidates, ex-presidents, and foreign dignitaries visiting the United States. Secret Service agents also investigate counterfeiting, the forgery of government checks or bonds, and the fraudulent use of credit cards.

Special agents employed by the U.S. Department of State work for the Diplomatic Security Service. Diplomatic Security Service special agents advise ambassadors on security matters and manage a complex range of security programs overseas. In the United States, they investigate passport and visa fraud, con-duct personnel security investigations, issue security clearances, and protect the Secretary of State and certain foreign dignitaries. They train foreign civilian police who then return to their own countries better able to fight terrorism.

Various other federal agencies employ special agents with sworn police powers and the authority to carry firearms and make arrests. These agencies generally evolved from the need for security for the agency's property and personnel. The largest such agency is the Federal Protective Service, which has personnel nationwide. Other examples include the U.S. Mint police, the Government Printing Service police, and the Central Intelligence Agency's Special Protective Service.

State police officers (sometimes called state troopers or highway patrol officers) patrol highways and enforce motor vehide laws and regulations. They issue traffic citations to motorists who violate the law. At the scene of an accident, they may direct traffic, give first aid, and call for emergency equipment. They also write reports that may be used to determine the cause of the accident. In addition, state police officers may provide services to motorists on the highways, such as calling for road service for drivers with mechanical trouble.

State police also enforce criminal laws. They are frequently called upon to render assistance to officers of other law enforcement agencies. In rural areas that do not have a police force or a local representative from the sheriff's department, the state police are the primary law enforcement agency, investigating any crimes that occur, such as burglary or assault.

Most new police recruits begin their careers in an urban setting. They generally start on patrol duty, riding in a police vehicle. In smaller agencies, they may work alone; in larger agencies, they ride with experienced officers. Patrols generally cover an area such as old and congested business districts or outlying residential neighborhoods. Officers attempt to become thoroughly familiar with conditions throughout their patrol area and, while on patrol, remain alert for anything unusual. They note suspicious circumstances, such as open windows or lights in vacant buildings, as well as hazards to public safety. Officers on patrol enforce traffic regulations and also watch for stolen vehicles and wanted individuals. At regular intervals, officers report to police headquarters by radio or by telephone when they are imparting information that is confidential, since scanners which pick up police radio communications are in popular usage.

Regardless of where they work, police, detectives, and special agents spend considerable time writing reports and maintaining records. They are called to testify in court when their arrests result in legal action. Some senior officers, such as chief inspectors, commanders, division and bureau chiefs, and agents-in-charge, are responsible for operation of geographic divisions of an agency, certain kinds of criminal investigations, and various agency functions. Such managers have administrative and supervisory duties.

Working Conditions

Police, detectives, and special agents usually work a 40-hour week, but paid overtime work is common. Shift work is necessary because police protection must be provided around the clock. More junior officers frequently must work weekends, holidays, and nights. Police officers, detectives, and special agents are subject to call at any time their services are needed and may work long hours during criminal investigations.

The jobs of some special agents such as U.S. Secret Service and DEA special agents require extensive travel, often on very short notice.

Some police, detectives, and special agents with agencies such as the U.S. Border Patrol have to work outdoors for long periods in all kinds of weather. While police work is inherently dangerous, good training, team work, and equipment such as bullet-resistant vests minimize the number of injuries and fatalities. The risks associated with pursuing speeding motorists, apprehending criminals, and dealing with public disorders can be very stressful for the officer as well as for his or her family.
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