What are the different ranks in law enforcement

The law enforcement ranks of police agencies in the U.S. vary widely depending on whether the agency is a metropolitan law enforcement department, a sheriff’s department or a small town law enforcement force. Within those categories of law enforcement agencies, there’s also wide divergence in the way law enforcement ranks are structured, depending on the individual agency locality. 

Here’s a general outline of the rankings of these departments:

Law enforcement Ranks:

A law enforcement commissioner is usually the highest ranking officer in a metropolitan law enforcement force, overseeing all of the other departments. In some cities, the law enforcement commissioner isn’t a uniformed officer and is appointed by the city’s mayor. The next highest law enforcement rank is the chief of law enforcement, under whom is the assistant chief. 

In a large metropolis like New York City, there will be several assistant chiefs who will head up the individual law enforcement divisions. The deputy chief is the next law enforcement rank and serves under the assistant chief of law enforcement. 

Next in the line is the captain who’s in charge of individual precincts or units, such as the detective unit or the patrol unit. A lieutenant comes next in law enforcement rank and supervises the next ranking of sergeant, who keeps tabs on the law enforcement unit or squad. A detective is a plain clothes law enforcement rank who investigates crimes, such as murders or drug offenses. Within the rank of detective are other rankings that designate supervisory positions. 

A law enforcement officer is the lowest member of the law enforcement ranks totem pole, although there are usually several different pay grades within the ranking. To move up the ladder from an officer to a captain involves taking examinations, as well as completing a certain amount of time in each rank. To advance above the rank of captain requires an appointment by either the law enforcement chief or the commissioner, depending on the department.

Sheriff’s Department Rankings:

The sheriff’s department is a county law enforcement force. In some rural areas, the county sheriff’s department is the only law enforcement agency and has a full roster of duties, including undertaking investigations and making arrests. In metropolitan areas, the sheriff’s department’s sole mandate might be the transportation of prisoners, providing courthouse security and serving summonses. The sheriff is the top ranking officer in the department and is almost always an elected official. The assistant sheriff or under-sheriff is the next in line of law enforcement ranks in the department, followed by division chief, captain, lieutenant, sergeant, corporal and deputy. A deputy sheriff is essentially the same rank as a law enforcement officer.

State Law Enforcement Ranks:

The state law enforcement patrol (also called state patrol or highway patrol) is responsible for enforcing the law within an entire state’s boundaries. The state law enforcement are under the auspices of each state’s Department of Public Safety and are based on a military model, with especially stringent training procedures in most places. The law enforcement ranks of this enforcement agency are similar to that of military rankings. The top law enforcement ranking is colonel. Below colonel is the rank of lieutenant colonel, then major, captain, lieutenant, sergeant, trooper first class, and trooper. 

Because of the variance of law enforcement ranks within various law enforcement agencies, it’s best to check the specific agency that’s of interest to you in order to get a clearer picture of the individual rankings.

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