This article is about law enforcement organizations. There are also: The Police - pop music band and Police, Poland - a town in Poland.

The police are a government organisation who are charged with the responsibility for maintaining law and order. In Libertarian parlance, they are a means by which the state implements its monopoly on the use of force. The word is from French, and less directly from the Greek politeia, referring to government or administration. The word police was coined in France in the 18th century. The police may also be known as a constabulary, after constables, who were the first police officers.

Table of contents
1 Introduction
2 Police armament
3 Police compared to Military
4 Difficult issues
5 Policing Structures
6 Various police agencies
7 For concepts, see also:
8 Police methods, services, and tactics
9 Ethical issues related to police
10 Notable historical police personalities
11 External links


In most Western legal systems, the major role of the police is to prevent and investigate crimes, and if able to apprehend suspected perpetrators(s), to detain them, and inform the appropriate authorities. See criminal law.

Police are normally considered an emergency service and may provide a public safety function at large gatherings, as well as in emergencies, disasters, and search and rescue situations. To provide a prompt response in emergencies, the police often co-ordinate their operations with fire and medical services. In many countries there is a common emergency service number that allows the police, firefighters or medical services to be summoned to an emergency.

Police are also responsible for reporting minor offenses by issuing citations which typically may result in the imposition of fines, particularly for violations of traffic law. Police sometimes involve themselves in the maintenance of public order, even where no legal transgressions have occurred -- for example, in some Australian jurisdictions, people who are drunk and causing a public nuisance may be removed to a "drying-out centre" until they recover from the effects of the alcohol.

In many countries, particularly those with a federal system of government, there may be several police or police-like organisations, each serving different levels of government and enforcing different subsets of the applicable law. In the United States of America, for instance, there are typically police forces (city police, county sheriff, state trooper etc.) run by local and state authorities, as well as several federal law enforcement agencies (including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Secret Service), endowed with police or quasi-police roles. Police organisations have established the International Criminal Police Organization - Interpol to detect and fight trans-national crime and provide for international co-operation and co-ordination of other police activities, such as notifying relatives of the death of foreign nationals.

Police armament

In many jurisdictions, police officers carry firearms in the normal course of their duties. In the United Kingdom and some other countries, police are not normally armed but are issued weapons in special situations. Police often have specialist units for handling armed offenders, and similar dangerous situations, and can often call on the military, sometimes including special forces like the SAS. They also can be equipped with non-lethal (also known as "less than lethal" or "less-lethal") weaponry, particularly for riot control. Non-lethal weapons include batons, shields, tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, stun guns. The use of firearms or deadly force is typically a last resort only to be used when necessary to save human life, althoug some jurisdictions allow it use against fleeing felons and escaped convicts. Police officers often also carry handcuffs.

Police compared to Military

Although both the military and the police carry weapons, the equipment, training and tactics used are very different. Generally, the police use the minimal amount of force necessary to maintain order. The military is trained to defeat the enemy and is less concerned about potential collateral damage. In the US, the federal military is generally proscribed from enforcing the law by the Posse Comitatus Act, although state militias can serve police functions in some circumstances. Police and paramilitary units generally function very poorly as military units and are generally destroyed when they attempt to fight a military force. Conversely, most professional militaries consider police activities to be a distraction from their primary goal, and when militaries attempt to operate as civil police forces, they usually alienate the population that they attempt to serve. Police activities are part of military operations other than war.

In some countries, the line between military and police can blur, especially in a military dictatorship or a country experiencing internal upheaval or war. The result is often the creation of paramilitary forces having mostly military training and mostly police equipment.

Difficult issues

Some police organizations, especially in multi-racial or multi-ethnic areas, may have be faced with a perception that racial profiling is occurring. Police organizations also must sometimes deal with the issue of police corruption. In the US, this is accomplished by having an independent or semi-independent organization investigate such as the FBI, internal affairs, or the Justice Department. Finally, in many places, the social status and pay of police is low leading to major problems with recruitment and morale.

For more information on extreme forms and various views of policing, see secret police, police state, corporate police state, thought police, and police brutality.

Policing Structures

Most police forces contain subgroups whose job it is to investigate particular types of crime.

In most Western police forces, perhaps the most significant division is between "uniformed" police and detectives. Uniformed police, as the name suggests, wear uniforms, and their jobs involve overt policing operations, traffic control, and more active crime response and prevention. Detectives, by contrast, wear 'business attire' when their job is to more passively investigate serious crimes, usually on a longer-term basis. In the US, larger, urban departments will additionally have 'plain clothes' officers who patrol rougher neighborhoods in unmarked police cars, looking for violent crime as it happens, then arresting those responsible before they can escape. The NYPD Street Crime Unit, now disbanded and replaced with precinct-based Anti-Crime units, is an example of this kind of work, often mistakenly referred to as 'undercover.' While many large US departments have some type of undercover officers, they are rarely identified publicly. An undercover officer is in plainclothes, but he is an officer playing a role, typically a drug buyer, drug seller, hired killer, or other organized crime participant. The officer's family may have no knowledge of his assignment, and the officer works without benefit of his police radio, firearm, or bullet-resistant vest, each of which would betray his true function. For an undercover, this is not the typical police work of arresting criminals. As he is essentially impersonating a criminal, solely in an effort to gather intelligence about criminal activity, he is akin to a spy. Like a spy, an undercover whose identity has been revealed, or is suspected, is almost always in danger of being killed for it. Police departments with undercover officers take great pains to keep their undercovers' names, faces, and even the sounds of their voices a secret. Generally, the work of plainclothes officers, detectives, and undercovers is regarded as more prestigious (than uniformed work) within the police organization (though some of the specialised uniformed squads are also high in status).

Specialised groups exist within the branches either for dealing with particular types of crime (for instance, traffic policing, murder, or fraud) or because of particular specialised skills they have (for instance, diving, operating helicopters, bomb squad, and so on). Most larger jurisdictions also retain specially-trained quasi-military squads armed with small arms for the purposes of dealing with particularly violent situations. These are sometimes called SWAT teams.

Various police agencies

For concepts, see also:

Police methods, services, and tactics

Ethical issues related to police

Notable historical police personalities

For fictional accounts of police work, see also: Crime fiction.

External links