To operate effectively, police departments must have a highly structured chain of command. While law enforcement agencies vary in size from small town departments to large city organizations, they share many common features.
Chief of Police
A chief officer heads up most police departments. It is the job of the chief to oversee the running of the entire department and to make important decisions, such as those related to operations and budgeting. Depending on the size of the department, there may be one or more deputy chiefs who have specific roles like managing staff.
Working under the chief, police departments typically have an administrative wing that is charged with account management, creating the annual report and handling personnel matters. This administration section is often referred to as internal affairs. There may be specialized units within the administrative sector that manage records and conduct criminal intelligence.
Patrol Officers and Investigators
In a separate division serving under the chief of police are the patrol officers. The patrol officers are assigned to work specific shifts and locations, typically determined by staff sergeants. Patrol officers focus on crime prevention and respond to calls by citizens. In addition to patrol officers, investigative units are typically assigned to specific types of cases, such as vice or homicide. These officers follow leads on unsolved crimes, execute warrants and provide inspections for certain regulated industries like pawn shops.
Wayne Thomas earned his J.D. from Penn State University and has been practicing law since 2008. He has experience writing about environmental topics, music and health, as well as legal issues. Since 2011, Thomas has also served as a contributing editor for the "Vermont Environmental Monitor."