Preparing for a Job in Federal Law Enforcement

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports the number of suspects arrested for federal crimes more than doubled between 1994 and 2010, from 80,450 to 179,489.

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The men and women of our nation’s federal law enforcement agencies are responsible for detecting, investigating, preventing and apprehending offenders who commit federal crimes. Due to the wide range of crimes within the federal purview, each agency has a distinct and well-defined set of responsibilities. However, given the complexity of many federal crimes, it is quite common for a number of federal agencies to coordinate expertise, manpower, and resources to achieve a singular goal.

Federal Law Enforcement Organizational Hierarchy

Aside from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which works as an independent agency, federal law enforcement jobs are organized under a few, centralized, federal agencies:

Department of Homeland Security

  • Citizenship and Immigration Services
  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
  • Secret Service
  • Transportation Security Administration (Air Marshals)
  • United States Coast Guard

Department of Justice

  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)
  • United States Marshals Service
  • Drug Enforcement Administration
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

Department of the Interior

  • Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement
  • National Park Service
  • United States Fish and Wildlife Service

U.S. Department of Agriculture

  • United States Forest Service

Federal Law Enforcement Agencies at Work

The value of our nation’s federal law enforcement agencies—and the job opportunities that exist as a result—has never been more evident: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of suspects arrested for violations of federal law has increased at an annual rate of 6 percent. In 2006, about 144,000 suspects were arrested on federal charges; in 2010, this number increased to nearly 180,000.

Between 2006 and 2010, the most common arrest offense in federal law enforcement was due to illegal immigration, which accounted for 46 percent of all arrests. Other common federal offenses during the same time period included drug crimes, which saw an increase of 16 percent in the number of arrests, and supervision violations, which saw an increase of 14 percent.

Immigration arrest rates, between 2006 and 2010, also grew the fastest, at 16 percent, followed by sex crime arrests, at 10 percent, and fraud arrests, at 6 percent.

Given the high rate of immigration arrests, it comes as no surprise that the five federal judicial districts along the U.S.-Mexico border accounted for 56 percent of all federal arrests in 2010:

  • California (Southern)
  • Arizona
  • New Mexico
  • Texas (Western)
  • Texas (Southern)

The largest employers of federal law enforcement officers, as of 2010, were:

  • Customs and Border Protection: 27,705
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation: 12,242
  • U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement: 10,399

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that, during the same time, as least 10 other agencies employed at least 1,000 federal law enforcement officers.

Education and Training Requirements For Federal Law Enforcement Careers

Employment and training requirements for federal law enforcement agencies are well-defined and precise.

Education – Most agencies demand a specific amount of experience from candidates, although a formal education is becoming an acceptable equivalent to experience among many agencies.

As such, many individuals interested in pursuing jobs in federal law enforcement choose to complete a bachelor’s degree in a number of programs, such as:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Homeland Security
  • Emergency Management
  • Public Safety
  • Criminology

Criminal justice and criminology programs typically provide students with a theoretical and practical approach to crime as it relates to local, state and federal interests. Coursework, therefore, generally covers the following areas of study:

  • Criminology
  • Ethics in Criminal Justice
  • Concepts of Social Science Research
  • Law, Policing and Corrections
  • Security and Police Administration

Public safety, homeland security and emergency management degrees offer additional areas of study for individuals interested in federal law enforcement careers related to the development of emergency plans and ensuring effective operations during catastrophic events. Therefore, coursework in these programs often focuses on the following areas of study:

  • Hazard Mitigation
  • Public Relations
  • Disaster Response
  • Critical Infrastructure Protection
  • Catastrophic Event Response Planning

Training – Many of the federal law enforcement jobs require training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), which has a number of flagship basic training programs:

  • Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP)
  • Land Management Police Training (CITP)
  • Uniformed Police Training program (UPTP)

For example, new CIA agents must complete the Criminal Investigator Training Program through the FLETC, while new CBP officers must complete the Uniformed Police Training Program.

Some federal agencies have their own training programs, in addition to initial training at the FLETC. New Secret Service agents, for example, complete the Criminal Investigator Training Program at the FLETC, followed by another 18 weeks of training at the Special Agent Training Course at the Secret Service Training Academy in Washington, D.C.

Still, other agencies have training specific to certain positions, such as the CBP, which trains all new border patrol agents at the Border Patrol Academy in Artesia, NM.

Federal Law Enforcement Resources

Department of Homeland Security

Immigration and Customs Enforcement

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

U.S. Department of the Interior

U.S. Secret Service

Central Intelligence Agency

Drug Enforcement Administration

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives

U.S. Marshals Service

Federal Bureau of Investigation

United States Coast Guard

Transportation Security Administration (Air Marshals)

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Federal Law Enforcement Training Center

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