Law enforcement agency is an essential component of every free society- it helps promote public safety and secure liberty among citizens. These agencies have similar functions across the globe, but their structure tends to differ from one country to another. Most notably, in many of the nations of the world, law enforcement agencies are structured on a national basis (Potter, 2013). Nonetheless, in the United States, the agencies are fragmented based on the levels of the government- federal, state, and local- to help optimize their efficiency in serving citizens.
Studies reveal that law enforcement agencies in the United States are organized in a bureaucratic structure. According to Potter (2013), these units are fragmented into three levels; federal, state, and local. The local police agency is the lowest in the hierarchy and is often managed by the local government. This agency is also further fragmented into divisions that address various issues affecting individuals at the local level, such as waste management.
In the second tier of the law enforcement agency is the state policing. Potter (2013) avers that state law enforcement agencies have had a long history in the United States and were first designed to suppress the organization of labor unions. However, this role has significantly evolved over the years to incorporate more duties that serve the general interest of American citizens. Today, the agency has a significant role to play in ensuring the safety of the United States people and pursuing criminal investigations.
The third category of law enforcement agencies in the United States is the federal agency. Potter (2013) states that the Federal law enforcement constitutes of about 100,000 full-time law enforcement personnel working in units such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Federal Bureau of Prisons, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and U.S. Customs Service. Mainly, this level of the law enforcement agency assumes more superior roles, and it operates under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Some of the primary functions of the federal law enforcement agency include prevention, detection, and investigation of crime and arresting the offenders (“Federal Law Enforcement”, n.d.). In general, the agency plays a broader role in ensuring safety and protecting the liberty of the U.S. residents.
Several rationales have been given for the bureaucratic organization of law enforcement agencies, among them the influence of the American belief on adequate accountability of such a system. Most notably, Potter (2013) argues that policing in the United States is fragmented because Americans believe that a local problem is best responded to and accounted for at the local level. For example, if there exists a problem of waste management in Los Angeles, it is believed that the policing unit at the county level, such as Los Angeles police department, can best respond to it because of its familiarity with the issues surrounding the area and its proximity with the county’s residents. As such, responsiveness and accountability are the primary reasons why law enforcement agencies in the United States are fragmented.
The organization of the law enforcement agency is dependent on different factors, among them, the levels of jurisdiction available in a country. For example, according to the Bureau of investigation, there are three units of administration within the local government- city, township, and county (“Local police”, n.d.). As such, in this context, the local law enforcement agencies are organized based on the four units, with each having jurisdiction over their respective areas.
When it comes to law enforcement organizations, duties are not assumed by a single individual; instead, they are delegated to the existing personnel. The division of labor in these agencies is thought to take a hierarchical structure. As opined by scholars, the police organization is often depicted in a hierarchical diagram with the office of the chief at the apex and an array of police departments below (Sheptycki, 2017). This typical division of labor implies that each personnel undertakes duties within the agency based on their authority. Notably, the highest in the hierarchy gives orders and delegates responsibilities to those in other levels of the pyramid.
Furthermore, the division of labor in law enforcement agencies is based on the nature of expertise. Each police department is fragmented in units that undertake different tasks such as investigation of homicides, property crimes, sensitive crimes, among others (Brandl, 2017). As such, labor is delegated to each person based on their area of expertise. Officers skilled in the investigation of homicides assume those responsibilities, those with knowledge in property crimes undertake the functions, and so forth.
Division of labor in the law enforcement agency leads into specialization, whereby each officer focuses primarily on their area of expertise. Supporters of specialization in the agencies argue that it is beneficial for several reasons, including enhancing expertise and efficiency (Brandl, 2017). The fact that attention is focused primarily on one’s area of specialization enables law enforcement personnel to offer the best performance in their units. Besides, specialization also allows novice officers to become experts in their respective fields of the criminal justice system.
Additionally, specialization is advantageous because it facilitates the effective division of labor. Notably, officers are likely to develop the essential skills required to undertake their duties competently by working in a particular unit repeatedly. With this in mind, supervisors can precisely place responsibility on law enforcement personnel based on their areas of specialization (United States, 1980). Therefore, promoting specialization in the agencies facilitate ease in delegating duties, as delegators are often assured of the ability of the officers to perform their functions effectively.
Also, specialization is beneficial because it facilitates an accurate assessment of the performance of each unit. As opined by one of the veterans of law enforcement, among the positive aspects of specialization is the fact that it is fairly simple to measure effectiveness within a department (Hess & Orthmann, 2012). When tasks are undertaken using a generalist approach, it may be difficult for a department to identify shortcomings in the workforce. However, specialization allows heads of police departments to adequately measure the effectiveness of each unit based on its performance and allocate resources depending on their individual needs.
Furthermore, specialization is advantageous as it promotes job flexibility and, in turn, increases productivity. As opined by scholars, inducement to work under specialized units includes flexible schedules, prestige, and ability to work in an area that one has an interest in (Hess & Orthmann, 2012). The fact that an officer specializes in one unit implies that their schedules depend on events that occur within their area of expertise. However, they can sometimes be called upon to partner with personnel in other units to conduct investigations. Furthermore, it is typical of individuals to perform their best when working in areas of their interest. As such, specialization in law enforcement not only enables officers to work under flexible schedules but also enhances their chances of being highly productive.
However, specialization also has a downside, especially in the general law enforcement agency. As opined by Hess and Orthmann (2012), specialization can constrain coordination across units within a police department. Notably, the majority of the specialist adopt different standards when dealing with investigations in the criminal justice system. Therefore, it can sometimes be challenging for different units to work together without the emergence of minor conflicts.
Furthermore, specialization can create wasteful duplication of tasks within the same area of jurisdiction. Research shows that often, “core-responsibility for the same results negates the advantage of specialization by purpose” (United States, 1980, p.5). For example, a given police department may have a specialized robbery unit charged with the responsibility of detecting, preventing, and investigating crime in a local community. At the same time, a patrol unit operating in the same department may be tasked with reducing cases of crime in the area. Therefore, due to the existence of a specialized robbery unit, tasks in the department can easily be duplicated, whereas a single generalized unit can undertake the function.
Despite the shortcomings of specialization, modern law enforcement agencies have managed to maintain a considerable level of accountability and responsiveness to community needs. However, to enhance the effectiveness of these agencies, standardized policies should be incorporated across the federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The proposed restructuring of the agencies can help foster coordination of efforts on various issues and avoid interference that may occur during a mission due to conflicting interests.
“Federal law enforcement” (n.d.). Bureau Justice Statistics. https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=74
“Local police” (n.d.). Bureau Justice Statistics. https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=71
Brandl, S.G. (2017). Police in America (1st ed.). SAGE Publications. ISBN: 1483379132
Hess, K.M., & Orthmann, C.H. (2012). Introduction to law enforcement and criminal justice. Cengage Learning. ISBN: 1111138907.
Potter, G. (2013, May 28). The organization of policing. Eastern Kentucky University. https://plsonline.eku.edu/insidelook/organization-policing
United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, Public Affairs Office, Office of Congressional and Public Affairs (1980). FBI law enforcement bulletin. Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice.