Police departments are local law enforcement agencies responsible for investigating crimes, apprehending criminals, and maintaining public order. They're nearly always local agencies with jurisdiction limited to a relatively small geographic area. Police departments maintain police records and make those that are not sealed available to public inspection.
The organization of police departments varies from city to city. At a minimum, most police departments patrol in vehicles or on foot, and they typically focus their efforts on the highest-crime neighborhoods in a particular jurisdiction. Police departments in big cities often have specialized units that focus on particular types of offenses, such as traffic, narcotics, vice, homicide and gang enforcement.
Police departments also have specialized fugitive squads who check court records, inmate records and sheriff records to look for criminals who have reneged on their bail. Most police departments have a rank system that resembles the military, although the exact model varies by jurisdiction. In some municipalities, the chief is the highest-ranking member of the department. In larger cities, the police department is often headed by a police commissioner.
Police departments are responsible for enforcing laws in their jurisdictions and maintaining public order. They often share these responsibilities with other local law enforcement agencies, especially those with overlapping jurisdiction, such as the county sheriff’s department and state highway patrol officers.
Police departments also help federal law enforcement agencies as well, particularly the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration, and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Law enforcement agencies may share records and logs to catalog criminal activity and records efficiently.
Police officers spend most of their resources on traffic enforcement and patrols, and a smaller portion of their time doing in-office investigative or administrative work. Police departments are nearly always the first responders to reach the scene of a car accident or public medical emergency.
Police officers issue many traffic citations and warnings for other minor offenses. Still, most police departments also have undercover or plainclothes detectives who investigate drug crimes and other offenses which are less visible than traffic violations.
Police departments are responsible for pursuing criminals who pose a danger to society. They have authority to investigate and arrest individuals suspected of committing any crime. Police departments regularly receive emergency calls from distressed citizens and witnesses to crimes. Whenever a serious crime occurs, police officers are the community's first line of defense protect the public and restore order.
Police departments are expected to abide by all laws, especially the rules of evidence and seizure and other Constitutional protections. They're not allowed to arrest people arbitrarily, use excessive force, or execute inappropriate searches. Police departments aren’t directly responsible for charging individuals suspected of crimes. Instead, police officers work with district attorneys who bring offenders to justice by prosecuting them. Since police officers handle investigations, they’re often called to testify in criminal trials.
Locating a police department in any jurisdiction is easy. Police departments make sure their information is easily available to the public. It may be more difficult to obtain police records- including criminal records, arrest records, logs, and blotters. These can be found by using the resources listed on this site.
In case of any emergency, you should call 9-1-1 immediately.