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What is Federal Law Enforcement?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Federal law enforcement is a form of law enforcement in federated nations which has jurisdiction across the whole country. Nations with a federal government are divided into a number of subdivisions, each of which can make its own laws and each of which has its own law enforcement agency or agencies, making federal law enforcement necessary to handle violations of the law which fall outside the jurisdiction of individual departments. In nations which lack a federated government, a law enforcement agency with country-wide jurisdiction is termed a national law enforcement agency, and may work slightly differently from federal agencies.

In federated nations, individual law enforcement agencies are responsible for overseeing public safety in their own divisions. For example, in Canada, the Toronto Police Service would handle law enforcement issues in the City of Toronto, but the Royal Canadian Mounted Police handles law enforcement issues which pertain to Canada's national security, which cross the borders of divisions within Canada, or which are escalated by law to the federal level.

Agents who work for federal law enforcement organizations handle issues like border control, kidnapping, protecting heads of state, drug laws, domestic terrorism, crimes which cross internal borders, fraud against the government, counterfeiting, and other crimes which threaten national security. In many nations with a federal government, strict laws determine the jurisdiction of various agencies, protecting localized law enforcement agencies from interference while giving federal agencies the authority to move in when it is appropriate.

Members of federal law enforcement agencies often cooperate with local law enforcement as well as international law enforcement organizations. In nations where multiple federal agencies have been established, agencies also need to cooperate with each other to accomplish the common goal of protecting the integrity of the national government. Power sharing agreements may be uncertain between agencies, especially with situations involving types of criminal activity which are relatively new or undefined.

Employees of federal law enforcement agencies can work in a number of capacities. They are all subjected to extensive background checks and training which are designed to qualify them for duty, with some opting for field work as agents, while others might be more interested in working in offices as researchers, supervisors, intelligence coordinators, and so forth. Federal law enforcement also relies heavily on the work of scientists in federal labs who do everything from analyzing evidence from crime scenes to assisting with analysis of intelligence.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By jennythelib — On Jun 10, 2011

@dfoster85 - Oh, there are too many to count almost! Within the TV/movie realm, you've probably seen the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), US Marshal Service (part of the Department of Justice), and the NCIS (Navy Criminal Investigative Service). The other branches of the military have their own investigative units, too.

The Department of Homeland Security has several different agencies, too--Border Patrol, immigration, etc.

Then you have the Park Police and a whole bunch of others, right down to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing Police (who knew there was such a thing?).

By dfoster85 — On Jun 08, 2011

In a movie, you always see someone flash a badge say, "I'm a federal agent." I've seen Secret Service agents do it, and FBI agents. What are the other federal law enforcement jobs?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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