Police ranks

Watching Barney Miller season 2 on DVD has me curious about how police officers are ranked and what those ranks really mean.

In the portion of the 12th Precinct that we see, there seems to be the following hierarchy: Inspector, Captain, Detective Sergeant, Detective, and then the various uniforms we see from time to time.

Question 1: Is that sequence correct? On the duty roster board, everyone’s just listed as DET but some, like Fish, get called “Sergeant” from time to time, so I’m kinda extrapolating.

Question 2: What is the position of “Inspector”? Luger doesn’t really seem to Barney’s boss or anything, he just wanders in when the writers need an old guy who isn’t Fish.

It probably doesn’t apply to all forces, but the local PD runs: Officer, Corporal (2 stripes, still refered to as “Officer”), Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, Chief. Detectives aren’t in the direct chain of command, but operate under their own division, ranked Detective, Detective Sergeant, Det. LT, Det. Cap. There are also other ranks involved in support activities that aren’t in the direct CoC. Theoretically, all Captains are equal and answer to the Chief.

In the NYPD, the uniformed ranks go:

Police Officer
Deputy Inspector
Deputy Chief
Assistant Chief
Bureau Chief

Here is a nifty site with ranks and insignias of the NYPD.

Every police department gets to choose its own rank structure. Generally speaking, though, “detective” is an assignment, not a rank, and each detective holds a rank equivalent to a non-detective rank.

It’s interesting that the 12th didn’t seem to have any Detective Lieutenants.

Thanks, all!

That’s how it is on my department. Generally smaller departments need fewer ranks. As the department gets bigger there may be a need to add ranks such as deputy chief. Of course more ranks mean more chance for promotion so the rank and file are never against it.

That’s not the way it is in the NYPD, however. Detective is a separate rank more-or-less between Police Officer and Sergeant. There is no such thing as a Detective Sergeant or Detective Lieutenant. Friedo listed the basic rank structure of the NYPD, but omitted Detective, which I’d put off to the side half-way between Police Officer and Sergeant.

When a “white shield” (actually silver) Police Officer is assigned to an investigative role, he can be given a “gold shield” and designated a detective (I don’t believe that this is considered a formal promotion under the civil service rules). Detectives start out as a Detective Third Grade, earning somewhere between a Police Officer and a Sergeant. Detectives may be advanced in grade to a Detective Second Grade, who earns approximately what a Sergeant makes. The very top Detectives (traditionally the top 100 Detectives in the NYPD) become Detectives First Grade, who earn approximately what a Lieutenant makes.

Despite all of this, Detectives of any grade do not have any command authority over other officers (and I believe that legally they are considered the same “rank” as white shield Police Officers).

To have command authority, a Police Officer or Detective must be advanced to Sergeant after a civil service exam and promotion off a civil service list. Likewise, a Sergeant must follow the civil service procedures to get promoted to Lieutenant, and similarly, Lieutenant to Captain, which is technically the highest civil service rank. Once an officer is a Captain, all advancement is in the sole discretion of the Police Commissioner (who has the authority to demote a higher-ranking officer, even the four-star Chief of Department, down to Captain as well).

So, in the NYPD, a Detective is a Detective, a first-line officer charged with investigating crimes. His squad would be commanded by a Sergeant or Lieutenant (or higher) assigned to that position from the overall pool of Sergeants (or whatever rank). So, there is a chance that an investigative unit commanded by a Sergeant could have within it a Detective First Grade that makes more than he does. However, because of this, and to avoid the disincentive to experienced Detectives from trying for promotion, some Sergeants and Lieutenants that command detectives can get a special designation that increases their pay to approximately that of officer a rank higher (i.e. a Sergeant supervisor would be paid like a Lieutenant).

I think on “Barney Miller” they didn’t slavishly follow NYPD procedures, but decided that a few of the investigators there would be Sergeants. Another difference is that I understand that precinct detective squads are generally commanded by a Sergeant or Lieutenant, not such an august personage as a Captain.

However, Inspector Luger was pretty clearly Barney’s boss. In the NYPD, an Inspector is two grades higher than a Captain (and wears gold eagles, similar to those of a U.S. Army Colonel). I know that in some other (particularly West Coast) departments an Inspector is a mid-level investigative rank (somewhere in the Sergeant-Lieutenant range), but not in the NYPD.

That’s a great post, Billdo. I remember when Dietrich is first coming over to the 12th (his original precinct, the 33rd, is being closed as a budget-cutting move), he’s described by Barney as a Detective Third Grade. For a long time, I thought the duty roster board listed the guys by rank/seniority, but Dietrich is much too high on the list for that to be the case. He’s usually on their higher than Harris, Wojo, and Chano.

How did it come to be that the lowest rank is called “officer”? Obviously these ranks were at least partially taken from the army, but calling the equivalent of a private an officer seems anomalous.

I’d presume that it’s because the person is an officer of the law. From dictionary.com:

I’ve been starting watching The Wire and one character is referred to as the “Major”.

Is this meant to be a nickname or an actual rank of some sort?

As Monty implies, the reason is likely that police were all considered to be officers long before military-style ranks were applied to them.

I note that the lowest police rank in Commonwealth countries is “constable.” And I believe that rank is not unheard of in the United States, but no longer common.

I don`t know anything about the real Baltimore Police Department, but within the Wire, they do have a rank of Major. If you watch the entire series you’ll see officers, sergeants, lieutenants, majors, colonels, deputy commissioners and commissioners. There’s a conspicuous lack of captains.

Also because the term “Policeman” has fallen out of favor. But not everywhere. I don’t mind being called Officer Loach but my official rank is Patrolman Loach.

Constables usually have a very specific purpose in the US. As the wiki link shows it varies from state to state. Many are elected officials.

At the site Monty linked there is also the tables for many other LEAs in the US and other countries, including Baltimore. In a number of police departments such as Baltimore, or here in Puerto Rico, (and very commonly in the case of State, as opposed to city police) the police force keeps an upper series of paramilitary field-grade ranks rather than switch to the job-title designation, as used by NYPD. Here in PR the relative rank of “Colonel” means you’re a Deputy Superintendent assigned to be an islandwide Bureau/Program/Division Chief. Until about the early 90s we used to have the separate track for detectives, but now it’s merged with the regular ranking system – you’re an Investigator Agent, Investigator Sergeant, etc.

As to the styling of the basic policeman, as Loach mentioned it varies: Police Officer, Police Agent, Patrolman, Trooper. Depends on the agency.