From references on these boards, and also TV and other media, American law enforcement jurisdictions and responsibilities seem almost incomprehensible to me. From the thread on interfering with railroad crossings, somebody said “you’d get a federal rap for interfering with the railroad, and also a local one for holding up traffic”. This I understand, but it reminded me to write this thread which i’ve been meaning to start for a while. I specifically don’t get the whole city, county, state thing, nor the difference between police officers, sheriffs, rangers, ATF, FBI, and more importantly who busts you for what.
I’ll give you a bit of background on my local situation (state of New South Wales, Australia).
1. The New South Wales Police
This is the biggie. This is the one that 99% of people will interact with if they’ve committed, or been the victim of, a crime. When you call emergency, these guys come out, when you’re speeding, these guys pull you over, they walk the beat, they bust drug gangs, help cats out of trees, control crowds, and generally just go about being cops. They have authority from the centre of Sydney all the way to the outback. Anywhere within state borders. I suspect they do broader work than their US counterparts (if I can be sure who they are). They will arrest you on behalf of the police in other states, and arrange extradition (subject to certain warrants and such). I think they also do a lot of arrests for the Federal Police (especially if time is of the essence - they are quicker with the flashing lights and guns stuff because there are more of them), and then they’ll hand you over.
The police in the other states have pretty much identical powers (for our purposes). State police often organise themselves into specialised branches such as highway patrol, drug squad, licensing (alcohol and gaming) etc, but that is more for their own internal convenience and you generally can’t tell where a cop works by his uniform or by the car he drives - a bored drug squad detective can pull you over for speeding, just as a highway patrol cop can issue a fine to a pub for breaching opening hours.
2. The Federal Police
Most Australians only ever see these lads at the airport. They do general police work in our small territories (not states), but elsewhere they are concerned with big stuff like conterfeiting currency or illegal immigration, that sort of thing. Much more specialised, and I think they are responsible for fewer areas than their US colleagues.
These are state officers who are unarmed, and are only marginally “law enforcement” at all. They are really court officers, and do the legwork for the local court, as well as, as far as I’m aware, peform a sort of function as the state’s own repo men.
Unarmed local officials (municipal or town) who will attend to such trivialities as barking dogs, kids drinking in the park, etc (though NSW Police can do this too).
There are a few other minor, self-explanatory ones like Parking Patrol, Customs and Excise, and the like.
The majority of the time though, it’s generally the State Police doing ALL the old-fashioned policing. Now this is where I get confused with the US situation. You have city police? Do they really have to screech to a stop at the city limits? Can Highway Patrol cops not arrest you for sitting in your front yard smoking pot? What are troopers? Do local police arrest people for federal crimes then hand them over, or do they just have to hope there are feds around?
Enquiring minds. Cheers.