The Multilayered and Decentralized System of US Law Enforcement

In the United States, there is no single law enforcement agency bearing total jurisdiction to enforce all laws in all American states. Although the Federal Bureau of Investigations is considered as superior to other law enforcement agencies across the country, sometimes there arise conflicts regarding the cases that can be handled at the state level and those that are subject to Federal investigation.

As a result, some law enforcement duties should belong to the federal law enforcement while the police at the state and local levels should have defined roles to avoid conflict in law enforcement. Further, local problems should be solved using local remedies, which would oppose the argument of centralizing the police unit and moving all police powers to Washington, DC. Although conferring all police duties to the federal law enforcement would increase consistency and efficiency while at the same time reduce costs, it would diminish the local law enforcement in the community.

When there is a separation of the duties that the federal, state and local police should perform, a perception that the law enforcement officers policing their neighborhoods are accountable to the local people would be certain. Therefore, the people would maintain their trust to the local officers and thus increase the community policing efforts. The federal law enforcement should handle matters, such as immigration, which when left to the state police would increase the chances of racial profiling and violation of rights to freedom (Varsanyi, Lewis, Provine, & Decker, 2012). However, cooperation is needed between the police and the federal law enforcement to ensure smooth execution of policing duties.

The functions of the different law enforcement units should be clearly defined to avoid conflict as was the case in United States v. Lopez whereby a high school student from a Texan school was arrested for carrying a gun to school. He was charged with violation of state law which criminalizes the possession of guns on school premises. However, federal agents got involved with the case under the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 and thus state authorities had to bow out. How the case was handled showed that the Federal law enforcement had outstepped its mandate and got involved in matters that were at the jurisdiction of the state law.

The federal law enforcement should stick to national security priorities, for instance, cyber-crime, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism. It should also enforce criminal matters regarding major theft or violent crime, white-collar crime, organized crime, civil rights, and public corruption. However, in the instances where there is substantial evidence that state, and local police units are acting in a manner to undermine investigations, then the federal law enforcement should get involved.

The United States should continue with the multiple layers of police agencies rather than centralize the national police agencies. However, one may argue that centralized police agencies providing a strong central control which multi-layered policing agencies cannot sustain since close control is exerted by a central authority which oversees policy, programming, procedure, and operations (Richman, 2000). The policing agencies should be independent in their duties although cooperation would be called for in certain circumstances. The United States system of policies is somehow fragmented and thus adopting a model that is a hybrid of both decentralized and centralized system would prove more effective (Richman, 2000).

Different police agencies should be linked to their specific geographic areas where they would exercise jurisdiction over such area. The federal law enforcement should deal with serious and organized crime while the local policies should be based on the preferences of the regional citizens. Centralizing the law enforcement would deprive the people their power in community policing although neglect of inter jurisdictional externalities occurs (Hathaway & Shapiro, 2011). Having a national police agency would lead to skewed allocation of resources to favor agencies that are viewed as belonging to the required majority.

Having a national police agency is only possible if the officers are well-educated and viewed as professional specialists. Thorough training and education would lead to better treatment of minorities, decreased dogma, fewer community complaints, higher aspirations, and increased use of discretion. Decentralization of policing, on the other hand, brings police closer to the community and thus tailor-make better law enforcement strategies for such a community (Richman, 2000). Police officers and detectives are engaged in the protection of lives and property. To become an officer or detective, one should have high school diploma or a college degree. They should be US citizens aged at least 21 years. The median annual wage is usually $60,270.

However, a multi-layered system of law enforcement is laden with the challenge of hindering the flow of intelligence within the United States law enforcement where state police department refuses to cooperate with the FBI by withholding information material to some cases. Centralizing the police agencies would decrease the police accountability for their policies and behaviors. It would diminish the effect of being subordinate to elected representatives, and the courts would also lose their power to safeguard the respect of due process by the police (Richman, 2000). Moreover, the further away citizens are from the government bureaucracy the lesser they would be responsive to getting involved with law enforcement. The multi-layered system of law enforcement, however, may allow for ethnically-composed policing elements.


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