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The Police and Law Enforcement
State and Local Police Forces
Each state has its own police force and in addition, some counties and large cities have their own county or sheriffs’ departments and municipal police departments. These departments have tasks such as enforcing traffic laws, conducting patrols, responding to emergency calls, and carrying out criminal investigations.
These state forces can be stand-alone agencies or operate as part of a bigger department, usually a state’s Department of Public Safety or Transportation. State police forces can also have different names, including Highway Patrol, State Troopers, State Police, and State Patrol. Alaska and Alabama are the only states that have a separate State Police and a Highway Patrol.
Law Enforcement on the Federal Level
There are many federal agencies in the US whose mission is to protect people living in the US from threats both within and beyond its borders and to prosecute criminal activity. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) belongs to the US Department of Justice and functions as both a federal criminal investigative body and a domestic intelligence agency. It has the power to investigate suspected criminal activity covering over 200 categories of federal crime. One of its top goals is to protect the US from terrorist attacks.
Other US agencies and departments which seek to uphold the safety and security of those living within the borders of the United States are:
- The National Security Agency (NSA), which is part of the Department of Defense. It operates globally, both within the US and beyond its borders, and gathers information to detect threats to the US. Its mass surveillance tactics have recently received widespread international and domestic criticism.
- The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which operates mainly outside the US, and carries out surveillance and intelligence gathering to protect the US from foreign threats.
- The Department of Homeland Security, which was created in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. It is equivalent to the Interior ministry in other countries. Two of its agencies, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Citizenship and Immigration Services, are of particular interest to expats wishing to take up a work assignment in the US. This department’s mission is to work within the civilian sphere to protect the country from and respond to terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and man-made accidents.
While all these agencies and departments are ostensibly in place to protect those living within the borders of the US, the use of widespread mass surveillance and the creation of massive nationwide databases has led many to protest their loss of privacy. Traffic cameras have long been used for purposes other than only prosecuting traffic violations, and there has been a rise in the use of surveillance drones in the past years, especially at large gatherings such as major protests.
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