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Law enforcement officers come in many different forms, each with a slightly different jurisdiction and set of duties. Some officers are city-based, others patrol rural areas. Some members of law enforcement are involved in the close-up analysis of evidence, and don’t patrol at all. Here is a basic overview of the many types of police and law officer.

Police Patrol Officers

Average salary: $57,570

police officersThese officers perform many different duties within a variety of jurisdictions, and their daily routine depends on their department and their own level of experience.

These are often the first officers to engage the public. Uniformed officers may respond to calls from private citizens, or they may initiate investigations during their regular patrols. In addition to investigating crime, these officers provide traffic control, first aid and other public services.

They also may choose to specialize in areas like firearms instruction, fingerprint, analysis, horseback or bike patrol, or harbor patrol. As with most law enforcement positions, detailed record keeping is also part of their everyday routine.

Sheriffs and Deputies

Average salary: $59,880

sheriff starSheriff’s officers are elected to work within a county jurisdiction. They may be the only law presence in rural areas.

A sheriff’s duties are similar to those of a city officer. They include patrol, investigation, and the arrest and transport of detainees. Sheriffs’ duties also extend to county courts, where they may carry out such duties as protecting juries outside of the courtroom, extraditing prisoners, acting as court bailiff, and enforcing court orders such as search warrants and money decrees.

Highway Patrol Officers

Average salary: $53,265

highway patrolAlso called State Police or State Troopers, these officers are the statewide highway and traffic authority. Operating in every US state but Hawaii, Highway Patrol officers pursue highway-bound criminals as well as issue traffic citations, detain law-breaking motorists, and assist at accidents scenes, where they may perform first aid or redirect traffic.

The Highway Patrol may also be called upon to assist other organizations, such as local police or sheriffs, especially in rural areas.


Average salary: $76,350

detective fingerprint kitThese plainclothes policemen are responsible for the investigation and fact-finding on individual cases. In this highly involved area of law enforcement, detectives usually specialize in one particular field, such as homicide or fraud. Detectives may be expected to work on a single case until its conclusion.

Their duties range from researching records and interviewing witnesses to monitoring suspects and participating in raids.

Fish and Game Wardens

Average salary: $56,669

ranger helicopterThese officers are in charge of keeping order in extremely rural and wilderness areas. Their responsibilities include enforcing hunting, fishing and boating laws, carrying out search and rescue operations, and helping to detain criminals who have fled into the wilderness.

Fish and game wardens sometimes assist other agencies, as in cases where officers need to move into a wilderness area to find a crime scene. They might also monitor and regulate boat traffic, respond to complaints and accidents, or assist in court proceedings for these areas.

Federal Agents

Average salary: $60,199

federal agentThe federal government uses several types of police agency. The most well-known is the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), whose officers investigate matters of federal law. This can include organized crime, terrorism, drug trafficking, bank robbery and cyber crimes. FBI agents may carry out operations such as wire taps, surveillance and undercover assignments.

Other federal agencies include the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which enforces drug laws, the U.S. Marshals, which protect the judicial system, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. The Department of Homeland Security handles border security and immigration affairs, and the U.S. Secret Service is responsible for the direct protection of the U.S. President.

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