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Federal Law Enforcement Jobs

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 104,000 fully sworn law enforcement officers worked in the federal ranks in 2004--nearly one of every eight law enforcement officers nationwide. As with state and local law enforcement, positions at the federal level range from entry-level uniformed officers and support staff to armed field investigators and senior executives.

A wider jurisdiction and increased responsibility in the wake of 9/11, however, have prompted many federal law enforcement agencies to seek out candidates with specialized skill sets and more advanced education. Those who possess training in computer science or criminal justice, or those who have military experience, should encounter the best employment opportunities.

Law Enforcement Police

Federal Law Enforcement Options

Federal law enforcement personnel work in one of two types of agencies: uniformed law enforcement and investigative. Uniformed officers work primarily for agencies that specialize in safety and security for federal buildings, federal land, and important government officials. For example, the security wing of the Secret Service organizes protection for the White House, Senate hearings, and for high-profile politicians when they travel.

Investigative personnel are assigned to agencies that enforce specific sections of the U.S. Code, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The DEA, for example, investigates crimes that involve the use, production, and distribution of illegal narcotics.

Contrasting Federal, State, and Local Law Enforcement

Federal law enforcement personnel may earn wages at higher rates than state or local police officers. However, federal officers are subject to sudden relocation to cities, states, or even other countries. To work for a federal agency, you should be willing to live in Texas, California, the District of Columbia, New York, or Florida--where half of all federal law enforcement officers are employed.

Local and state law enforcement officers not only have a choice of location of service, but they may work and live in the same community during the full course of their careers.

Career Training and Education

Federal career training requirements also can be more stringent than those for state or local police agency recruits. Applicants for FBI agent positions must hold a bachelor's degree, and should have training in accounting, computer science, language, or law. Some local, state, and even federal positions require a criminal justice degree at the associate's or bachelor's level. City and state law enforcement agencies, meanwhile, may place high value on the completion of a criminal justice degree, but many accept candidates with only high school diplomas and/or military experience.

Career training requirements are even higher for potential CIA officers, many of whom have a graduate degree along with foreign language proficiency, military experience, and/or previous residency abroad.

Federal Agencies, Federal Responsibilities

Federal law enforcement officers generally have a different set of responsibilities than most city and state police officers. In a 2005 nationwide study, city police departments reported that speeding accounted for 53.3 percent of all traffic stops. In contrast, federal officers spend more time investigating corporate or violent crime, rather than driving the beat, answering spousal abuse calls, or investigating burglaries.

Salaries and Compensation

*Federal salaries are predictable, and usually rise based on length of service, with advancements via specialized testing. FBI agents can start from a beginning wage of around $60,000 per year up to an estimated $131,000 for an executive role. Compare that to the 2005 national median pay of $47,460 for city police officers and deputy sheriffs.

*The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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