Federal law enforcement in the United States

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The federal government of the United States empowers a wide range of law enforcement agencies to maintain law and public order related to matters affecting the country as a whole.[1][2]

While the majority of federal law enforcement employees work for the departments of Justice and Homeland Security, there are dozens, or less, of other federal law enforcement agencies under the other executive departments, as well as under the legislative and judicial branches of the federal government.

Different federal law enforcement authorities have authority under different parts of the United States Code (U.S.C.). Most are limited by the U.S. Code to investigating matters that are explicitly within the power of the federal government. There are exceptions, with some agencies and officials enforcing codes of U.S. states and tribes of Native Americans in the United States. Some federal investigative powers have become broader in practice, especially since the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act in October 2001.[3]

The United States Department of Justice was formerly the largest, and is still the most prominent, collection of federal law enforcement agencies. It has handled most law enforcement duties at the federal level[4] and includes the United States Marshals Service (USMS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), and others.

However, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) became the department with the most sworn armed Federal law enforcement officers and agents upon its creation in 2002 in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks when it incorporated agencies seen as having roles in protecting the country against terrorism. This included large agencies such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Secret Service (USSS), the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) (created by combining the former agencies of the United States Border Patrol, United States Customs Service, and the United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) into a single agency within the DHS).[2]


Federal agencies work with other law enforcement during events, such as presidential visits to the UNGA in NYC. Pictured - USSS, DSS and ATF

Federal law enforcement in the United States is more than two hundred years old. For example, the Postal Inspection Service can trace its origins back to 1772,[5] while the U.S. Marshals Service dates to 1789.[6]

Other agencies, such as the FBI are relatively recent, being founded in the early twentieth century. Other agencies have been reformed, such as the ATF which was started only in 1972, but had its origins in 1886.[7][circular reference]

Some federal law enforcement agencies have been formed after mergers of other agencies, over the years. This includes the CBP and the ATF.

Military law enforcement, although federal, are slightly different in that they may or may not be active duty or civilians, depending upon their job (see below).

List of agencies and units of agencies[edit]

Agencies in bold text are law enforcement agencies (LEAs).

Executive Branch[edit]

Department of Agriculture[edit]

Seal of the United States Department of Agriculture

Department of Commerce[edit]

Seal of the United States Department of Commerce

Department of Defense[edit]

United States Department of Defense Seal

Department of Education[edit]

Seal of the United States Department of Education

Department of Energy[edit]

Seal of the United States Department of Energy

Department of Health and Human Services[edit]

Seal of the United States Department of Health and Human Services

Department of Homeland Security[edit]

Seal of the United States Department of Homeland Security
CBP Officers and Border Patrol Agents at a ceremony in 2007

Department of Housing and Urban Development[edit]

Seal of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Office of Inspector General (HUD-OIG)
  • Protective Service Division (HUD-PSD)

Department of the Interior[edit]

Seal of the United States Department of the Interior

Department of Justice[edit]

Seal of the United States Department of Justice

Department of Labor[edit]

Seal of the United States Department of Labor

Department of State[edit]

U.S. Department of State official seal

Department of Transportation[edit]

Seal of the United States Department of Transportation

Department of the Treasury[edit]

Seal of the United States Department of the Treasury
A Bureau of Engraving and Printing Police (BEP) patrol car.
Two IRS-CI Special Agents conducting a search

Department of Veterans Affairs[edit]

Seal of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Legislative Branch[edit]

Seal of the United States Congress

Judicial Branch[edit]

Other federal law enforcement agencies[edit]

Independent Agencies and federally-administered institutions;

2016 Ford Police Interceptor Utility belonging to the US Postal Police, NYC
An FBI agent at a crime scene

List of former agencies and units of agencies[edit]


  • In 2004, federal agencies employed approximately 105,000 full-time personnel authorized to make arrests and carry firearms in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Compared with 2002, employment of such personnel increased by 13%.
  • Nationwide, there were 36 federal officers per 100,000 residents. Outside the District of Columbia, which had 1,662 per 100,000, State ratios ranged from 90 per 100,000 in Arizona to 7 per 100,000 in Iowa.
  • As of 2004, about 3 in 4 federal law enforcement officers working outside the Armed Forces were employed within the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Justice.
  • Federal officers' duties included criminal investigation (38%), police response and patrol (21%), corrections and detention (16%), inspections (16%), court operations (5%), and security and protection (4%).
  • Women accounted for 16% of federal officers in 2004, an increase from 14.8% in 2002.
  • A third (33.2%) of federal officers were members of a racial or ethnic minority in 2004. This included 17.7% who were Hispanic or Latino, and 11.4% who were black or African American. In 2002, racial or ethnic minorities officers comprised 32.4% of federal officers.
  • Twenty-seven federal offices of inspector general (IG) employed criminal investigators with arrest and firearm authority in 2004. Overall, these agencies employed 2,867 such officers in the 50 states and District of Columbia.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov Archived 2013-02-15 at the Wayback Machine Federal Law Enforcement United States Bureau of Justice Statistics Publications & Products. Page last revised on 17 June 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
  2. ^ a b "CBP Through the Years - U.S. Customs and Border Protection".
  3. ^ Hatcher, Jeanette. "LibGuides: Criminal Justice: Federal Law Enforcement Agencies".
  4. ^ Langeluttig, Albert (1927). The Department of Justice of the United States. Johns Hopkins Press. pp. 9–14.
  5. ^ "History of the United States Postal Inspection Service". Retrieved 2020-02-06.
  6. ^ "U.S. Marshals Service".
  7. ^ "Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives".
  8. ^ "Protective Operations Division".
  9. ^ https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IN/IN11328[bare URL PDF]

External links[edit]