Top 10 Law Enforcement Agencies Explained

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The objective of being able to “protect and serve” the people definitely not something that is specifically tasked to only police officers in your local precincts. There is an abundance of different law enforcement agencies at work behind the scenes, doing all that they can on a daily basis to make sure this objective is continuously met throughout the world. Here is a list of the top 10 law enforcement agencies along with brief explanations on the purposes of each one.

10. SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics)

The first SWAT team was created within the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in 1968 by inspector Daryl gates. Due to the success of the operation within that specific department, it has expanded over the years to many other departments both in the United States as well as in Canada. This agency has a wide range of duties and responsibilities that they take care of on a daily basis, especially since they are primarily called to action whenever they are needed. Thus, on any given day, they may be involved in hostage rescue, controlling riots, rescuing people that are in the line of gunfire, countering operations of terrorists, stabilizing situations involving high-risk suicidal people, security at special events, etc.

9. CBP (US Customs and Border Protection)

CBP is more of an agency within an agency. It was established by the US Department of Homeland Security with the primary objective focused on the facilitation and regulation of international trade, import collection and the enforcing of US regulations when it comes to customs and immigration. With more than 45,000 federal agents and officers on their staff, CBP is the largest law enforcement agency in the country. It may seem that their job is to just catch terrorists and prevent them from coming into the country, but they actually ensure that anyone entering the country illegally is apprehended – regardless if they are terrorists or not.

8. NSA (National Security Agency)

The Armed Forces Security Agency was established in May of 1949. This agency directed all electronic intelligence activities and communications within military intelligence units throughout the country – such as the Air Force Security Service, the Naval Security Group and the Army Security Agency. The problem was that they did not have a centralized coordination mechanism. Two years later, in 1951, the CIA forwarded a memo to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council referencing the ineffective operation of the agency and recommended a survey of their activities. That survey suggested an elevated focus on direction and coordination overall, which is why they expanded and President Truman authorized the establishment of the National Security Agency (NSA) in 1952. The agency focuses on cryptanalytic research, breaking codes and ciphers found within various communication techniques since World War II. Their presence is so confidentially classified and discreet that, for several years, their existence was not revealed or even acknowledged by the federal government. The common joke was that “NSA” stood for “No Such Agency” or even “Never Say Anything”. On a daily basis, the collection system with this agency is able to intercept and store billions of e-mails and phone calls along with other communications throughout their 70 databases.

7. ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives)

Throughout history, the ATF has changed their agency’s objectives and even name several times in order to accommodate the growing needs of the country. In 1896, they were the “Revenue Laboratory” within the US Department of the Treasury. After the Volstead Act that established prohibition in the US was repealed in 1933, they became the Alcohol Tax Unit (ATU) within the Bureau of Internal Revenue. When that bureau became the IRS in the early 1950s, enforcing tobacco tax laws for the federal government was added to the plate of the ATU, forcing them to then be called the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division (ATTD). Once the Gun Control Act was passed in 1968, they changed their name to the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms division (ATF) within the IRS. Within the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, the Explosives Control Act was established so the ATF was given the responsibility of regulating the explosives industry and to investigate specific arsons and bombings that would be charged as federal crimes. With their overwhelming and weighty responsibilities, they were established as a separate bureau within the Treasury Department in 1972. Therefore, the agency became known as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, maintaining all of the responsibilities and duties that they acquired over the years since being established.

6. DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration)

When President Richard Nixon signed the Reorganization Plan No. 2 in July of 1973, he authorized the creation of a federal agency with the primary responsibility of administering federal drug laws and coordinating the government’s drug control actions overall. This was approved by Congress since the exponential availability of drugs throughout the country was becoming a huge concern at the time, so several federal offices then merged to form the DEA. This agency focuses mainly on investigating drug smuggling and the use within the United States and even abroad as well. In 1999, the DEA established the Drug Enforcement Administration Museum located in Arlington, Virginia that provides access to the public to be educated through several drug-related exhibits. This museum has a permanent exhibit about the modern history of illegal drugs in America that has been the museum’s primary focal point since it opened.

5. DHS (Department of Homeland Security)

The terrorist attacks that took place within the United States on September 11, 2001 are what caused President George W. Bush to create this law enforcement agency. Since its establishment, the primary focus of the DHS has to been the protection of both the United States of America as well as U.S. territories from terrorist attacks, natural disasters and man-made accidents. It is also responsible for effectively responding to these events if and when they do occur throughout the country. Currently, there are more than 200,000 employees that work within the DHS, making it the 3rd largest department of the Cabinet. Who is selected to bear the responsibility of overseeing this significant organization? The Secretary of Homeland Security is assisted by the Deputy Secretary in fulfilling that monumental task.

4. FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation)

The Supreme Court determined in 1886 that the states did not have any power when it came to regulating interstate commerce. The federal government went back and forth between the Justice Department and Congress for years on their resolution to this problem until the Attorney General established an official Bureau of Investigation (BOI) that was staffed with special agents. The first group of agents was actually Secret Service agents and they remained on the staff until Theodore Roosevelt officially refilled it with their own special agents in 1908. In 1935, it became an independent service within the Department of Justice and, later on that year, officially changed their name to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). One of the most famous agency officials in the history of this country is J. Edgar Hoover, who served as the director of this bureau for close to 50 years. He played a significant role in most of the major projects and cases that the FBI worked through during his tenure with that agency. Today, the FBI is divided into five branches: the National Security Branch, the Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch, the Science & Technology Branch, the Information and Technology Branch and the Human Resources Branch. All branches report directly to either the Associate Director or the Deputy Director.

3. Interpol (International Criminal Police Organization)

During the First International Criminal Police Congress in 1914, magistrates, lawyers and police officers from a little over ten countries gathered together in Monaco to discuss arrest procedures, identification methods and other systematic approaches and techniques that were used within their respective countries. Moving forward with this organization was put on hold, due to World War I, but reconvened and was re-established in 1923 in Vienna. This was also the year that the United States was added to the list of participating countries within Interpol. Currently, the headquarters of this organization is located in Lyon, France. Their primary purpose and function is to establish and maintain the international cooperation of police departments all throughout the world. Currently, 190 countries are directly affiliated with Interpol, which is the 2nd largest intergovernmental organization in the world (next to the United Nations). According to Article 2 of their instituted constitution, the main objective of this organization is to ensure & promote the most extensive mutual assistance between all criminal police authorities possible that is within the limits of the laws that exist in different countries. They also focus working together to come up with effective plans to prevent and suppress ordinary law crimes on an international level.

2. CIA (Central Intelligence Agency)

During World War II, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was formed with the objective of coordinating espionage activities against the Axis Powers for the various branches of the US Armed Forces. The National Security Act of 1947 officially took that office and formed the CIA – completely separating it internationally from police and law enforcement operations. The overall objective now for the CIA is to gather any necessary information on foreign governments, corporations and even specific individuals to advise public policy makers. In addition to that weighty degree of responsibilities, they also carry out specific covert operations and conduct emergency tactical operations when required.

1. USSS (United States Secret Service)

President Abraham Lincoln established the Secret Service in April of 1865 and tasked them with the primary duty of suppressing counterfeiting, which had become a serious issue within the United States. There were only a few federal law enforcement agencies at the time – two of which focused on US mail, one Park Police agency and then the US Marshals service. Therefore, the government did not have the manpower necessary to conduct investigations of all federal crimes which is why the Secret Service was chosen to fulfill that need. That all changed after President William McKinley was assassinated and the Secret Service was officially tasked with also focusing on the protection of the President, making this agency the first US domestic intelligence and counterintelligence agency.

Whether you know it or not, all of these agencies (and so many more) are working hard every single day to protect and serve the citizens within the United States as well as joining forces with international agencies to help do the same on a worldwide level. Throughout history, these agencies have been renamed, revamped and reformed to adapt to the growing needs of our country and will undoubtedly continue to do the same in the future.