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The Scope and Mission of Federal Law Enforcement

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More than 40 percent of all federal criminal provisions have been enacted since 1970. This means that dozens of offenses what were once considered state crimes now fall under federal jurisdiction. It is now commonplace for federal law enforcement agencies to work closely with state and local law enforcement agencies to bring federal criminals to justice.

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From the formation of the oldest federal law enforcement agency, the U.S. Marshals Service, in 1789, to the reorganization of our nation’s law enforcement agencies and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, federal law enforcement has undergone significant changes to address today’s most significant risks.

The Scope and Organization of Federal Law Enforcement Agencies

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, federal law enforcement agencies are organizational units of the federal government, and their principle functions include the prevention, detection, and investigation of crime, as well as the apprehension of alleged offenders.

To date, the largest federal law enforcement employers are:

  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection (27,705)
  • Federal Bureau of Prisons (15,214)
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (12,242)
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (10,399)

There are also at least 10 other law enforcement agencies that have at least 1,000 officers.

With the exception of a number of independent federal agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Postal Service, and a number of law enforcement agencies within the Department of the Interior, including the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the majority of federal law enforcement agencies are organized under the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security.

Federal Law Enforcement in the Department of Justice

The Department of Justice (DOJ), part of the federal government’s executive branch, is responsible for the enforcement of law and the administration of justice. The DOJ’s budget in FY2012 was $26.8 billion, with $13 billion being allocated to its law enforcement operations and another $8.2 billion for federal prisons.

The DOJ’s FY2012-2016 strategic goals and objectives include:

  • Preventing terrorism and promoting the security of the nation
  • Preventing crime, protecting the rights of the American people, and enforcing federal law
  • Ensuring the administration of justice at all levels

The law enforcement agencies administered by the Department of Justice include:

  • United States Marshal Service
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Federal Bureau of Prisons
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
  • Drug Enforcement Administration
  • Office of Inspector General

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives work to deter and investigate crimes and arrest criminal suspects; the U.S. Marshals Service works to protect the federal judiciary while also apprehending fugitives and detaining offenders in federal custody; the Bureau of Prisons confines convicted offenders; and the National Security Division organizes national security, counterintelligence, foreign intelligence surveillance, and counterterrorism operations.

Federal Law Enforcement in the Department of Homeland Security

Just 11 days following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Governor Tom Ridge was appointed the first director of the Office of Homeland Security. The passage of the Homeland Security Act in November 2002 signified the formal creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a stand-alone, Cabinet-level department that was designed to coordinate and unify all national homeland security efforts.

The DHS is now a combination of 22 federal departments and agencies, including the following federal law enforcement agencies:

  • Customs and Border Protection
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement
  • Transportation Security Administration
  • U.S. Coast Guard
  • U.S. Secret Service

Law enforcement careers in the DHS include protecting the President and the Vice President; securing the nation’s borders; providing interagency law enforcement training; and enforcing the nation’s economic, transportation and infrastructure components. The DHS also protects the nation’s transportation systems, oversees lawful immigration into the U.S., provides prevention and response services for national economic and security interests, and provides response, recovery and mitigation as a result of natural and manmade disasters.

The core missions of the DHS include:

  • Preventing terrorism and enhancing security
  • Safeguarding and securing cyberspace
  • Enforcing and administering immigration laws
  • Securing and managing the nation’s borders
  • Ensuring resilience in the face of disasters

The DHS encourages information sharing and collaboration; ensures adequate plans and training to all homeland security and law enforcement partners; and facilitates the rebuilding and recovery along the Gulf Coast.

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