US Local, State and Federal Police Agencies


Policing system in the United States is very different from the ones applied in other countries because three levels characterize it including local, state, and federal level. The drafters of the constitution based the idea of dividing policing into three levels on the two principles. During independence, the states were concerned with their security and allowing the federal government to take care of it was opposed. At this time, leaders never agreed on the best form of government, as a majority proposed a national government with the head of state being the commander-in-chief while others were of the view that each state to should be in charge of security. The American belief is that each community has special features that make it distinct and issues related to education, policing, waste management should be deal with locally. The American policing system is the worst according to certain analysts because enforcement of the law has always been problematic due to fragmentation. One of the problems associated with local policing is recruitment since there are no uniform standards applied in trying individuals wishing to work in state, local, and federal levels. Again, the security agencies waste resources trying to deal with a single security issue leading to duplication of roles. The issue of information sharing has been raised in various forums given the fact policing role is cumbersome. This paper compares the three levels of policing in the country with an aim of establishing the similarities and differences among them. The comparative analysis looks at the managerial abilities of the agencies at the three levels, their leadership styles, organization, and the styles of operation.


In terms of organization, the police departments in the country are mainly local given their nature of operations, as many sheriffs constitute a number of them. Cities with over two-hundred and fifty people are entitled to many local policing organizations, which makes law enforcement exercise a complex process because of restructuring and subdivisions. Officers working at local police departments are not state officers because they do not take oaths to serve the people. Additionally, a local department of police should have a maximum of twenty-five officers and those serving on full-time basis are always less than ten (Falcone, Wells, & Weisheit, 2002). In other words, many people volunteer to help the law enforcers at the local level because of the constraints in human resources. The special police force, which is a federal agency, employs close to forty-thousand officers and posts them to local police departments to work in areas requiring special skills and expertise, such as transport, airports, and offering security to the public houses that are under security threat from terrorist groups. On the other hand, at least sixty-six police agencies exist in each state charged with the special role of ensuring that the states offer adequate policing services, such as patrolling the highways and investigating special crimes that are beyond reach for the local agencies (Gregory, 2014). Unlike local police departments that have always existed since independence, state level policing was introduced between 1900 and 1930 to deal with the chaos that labor unions brought in the country. Its introduction came at a time when the country was facing the worst financial crisis and workers demanded for more compensation from the federal government and companies.

The only state without state policing agency is Hawaii and it is because of special reasons. Unlike local police, the function of the state police is to investigate crime and control traffic. The structure of the federal policing system differs significantly from those of the local and state levels, as the agencies operating at this level are close to one-hundred thousand workers offering their services full time. A majority of officers in the federal departments serve in the immigration offices, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the FBI, and the customs service. Roosevelt saw the need of establishing a policing agency named Bureau of Investigations to look into special forms of crimes in 1908. In 1935, the executive restructured the agency to form the current FBI, which earned a lot of respect from 1930 because of its special abilities to nail bank robbers. The state gave the agency additional responsibilities during the Second World War to gather critical information and offer intelligence services. However, it has always encountered challenges with claims that it investigates the conducts of political leaders.

Management at local levels is based on community policing whereby the formal modes are dropped in favor of consultation. The local police will always patrol the communities by walking around and this improves interactions leading to crime detection and easy arrest. In some communities, formal means of policing cannot be applied because members are reluctant to share information freely. Unfortunately, the model, considered chaotic in modern organizational behavior has failed to bear fruit, with studies suggesting that it only applies in affluent communities. The management model that the state-level police agencies employ is militaristic in nature with claims that it is effective in information extraction. Through the model, the police departments observe that corruption is reduced, political favoritism is eliminated, and the influence of politicians is always reduced. The model has been unsuccessful because it allows individual police officers to make decisions, which affect policing in general. The military style is dangerous to the public because chances of harming innocent people are very high.

Recently, the state police was heavily criticized for shooting and killing unarmed civilian and this is attributable to the management style employed at the policing agencies at this level (Kraska, 1999). The style of management is autocratic since officers make decisions without involving other important stakeholders. At the federal level, bureaucracy is observed given the complexity of the functions at the level. However, the level is considered an impediment to policing because it limits effective operation by hindering personal development and growth. Innovation and creativity are never achieved through a bureaucratic model and this explains why the federal police have always failed to develop the best strategies to deal with the terrorist threats in the country.

Regarding leadership features, the managers at the local levels are said to be democratic because they give officers permission to make decisions on the best methods and techniques applied in arresting and preventing crime. Officers working on contract or volunteer program are given some powers and this shows delegation of roles. The country’s local police have done extremely well in containing community-based forms of crimes, such as rape, mugging, car jacking, aggravated assault, and identifying drug-smugglers. The state police departments are considered authoritative because the views of the community are not incorporated into policy formulation processes. Communication is never horizontal, but instead it flows from the top to various sections. The systems of command are formal meaning officers are under strict instructions to use their knowledge obtained through training and experience to ensure cities are safe and free from criminals. The case could be different in case the locals are consulted before implementing a policy. Since the federal police should meet the global standards, it is forced to readjust its leadership style to paternalistic, which is a softer form of authoritarianism. The model is said to facilitate motivation, as workers are allowed to make minimal decisions, especially those that improve the performance of the organization. Whenever the FBI director makes decisions that affect the lives of Americans negatively, he will always explain the reasons for taking such a drastic measure, a characteristic of a typical leader employing paternalistic style of leadership. The FBI boss is seen as the image of the American intelligence community and he is forced to act in a particular manner to portray the US as the best in dealing with the security problems (Kohn, 2008).


The country’s security system suffers from organizational, leadership, and managerial problems because functions carried out at the various levels are duplicated resulting in the waste of resources. The local level policing agencies have been successful in dealing with petty crimes because of employing community policing, but the operational design employed at state level policing leaves a lot to be desired due to excessive use of force. The federal policing system is functional to some extent, but it does not have robust leadership styles that help in improving the performance of employees.


Falcone, K., Wells, L., & Weisheit, R. (2002). The Small-Town Police Department. Policing, 25(2), 371-385.

Gregory, A. (2014). Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces. The Independent Review, 19(2), 271-275.

Kohn, R. H. (2008). The Danger of Militarization in an Endless “War” on Terrorism. The Journal of Military History, 73(1), 177-208.

Kraska, P.B. (1999). Militarizing Criminal Justice: Exploring the Possibilities. The Journal of Political and Military Sociology, 27(2), 205-215.