July 18, 2017

Local, State, and Federal Law Enforcement Careers

Law enforcement jobs differ at the local, state, and federal levels, and the job requirements for each type of job vary. When selecting a job in law enforcement, it is important to keep in mind not only the level at which you wish to work, but also the types of jobs that might be available at each level, the job responsibilities, and the respective salaries and compensation for each job.


A federal law enforcement job can be located just about anywhere. As a federal officer, you will be required to relocate to the city, state, or even country where the job is located. Approximately one half of all federal law enforcement jobs are located in New York, Florida, Texas, California, and the District of Columbia, so you need to be prepared to live in any one of these places if you want to be a federal law enforcement officer.

If you are in law enforcement at the state level, you could be required to relocate to another city within the state, or as with a job at the federal level, travel from city to city within your state to perform the duties of your job. In contrast, a law enforcement job at the local level does not typically require much travel, other than within the city or municipality where you are employed. In fact, a local law enforcement officer could spend his or her entire career right in the officer’s own hometown.

Law enforcement jobs at the federal level fall into one of two categories: investigative and uniformed. Investigative jobs are those performed within the federal agencies that enforce United States Code, such as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Uniformed jobs are those that provide for the safety and security of government officials, federal buildings, and land. Agents in the Secret Service are considered uniformed federal law enforcement personnel.

As can be expected, law enforcement jobs at the local/municipal level will have a narrow focus and jurisdiction. State-level law enforcement jobs, while similar to jobs at the local level, can involve work across the entire state. For example, a municipal district court deals with small claims and minor crimes while a state supreme court has authority over a state’s entire court system.

In terms of compensation, federal law enforcement personnel are paid at higher wage rates than their counterparts at the state and local levels. Compare the salary range of an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to that of a city police officer or sheriff patrol officer. An FBI agent’s pay ranges from $54,000 to $110,000 per year, whereas the salary range for a city police officer is from $36,000 to $60,000 per year. Federal law enforcement salaries usually increase based upon years of service; local law enforcement salaries are subject to local budgets, making them less predictable than federal salaries.

Finally, if you are a federal officer, you are likely to spend your time investigating corporate crimes or federal offenses. The job responsibilities of city and state police officers differ in that they typically include driving a beat or performing traffic stops for driving violations.

Before entering into a career in law enforcement it is important to understand the differences between federal, state, and local law enforcement jobs. You should select one that is the most appropriate for you based upon where you want to live and the type of work you want to perform.