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September 01, 2010

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What are the different police ranks

The police ranks of law enforcement agencies in the U.S. vary widely depending on whether the agency is a metropolitan police department, a sheriff’s department or a small town police force. Within those categories of law enforcement agencies, there’s also wide divergence in the way police ranks are structured, depending on the individual agency locality.

Here’s a general outline of the rankings of these departments:

Police Ranks:

A police commissioner is usually the highest ranking officer in a metropolitan police force, overseeing all of the other departments. In some cities, the police commissioner isn’t a uniformed officer and is appointed by the city’s mayor. The next highest police rank is the chief of police, under whom is the assistant chief.

In a large metropolis like New York City, there will be several assistant chiefs who will head up the individual police divisions. The deputy chief is the next police rank and serves under the assistant chief of police.

Next in the line is the captain who’s in charge of individual precincts or units, such as the detective unit or the patrol unit. A lieutenant comes next in police rank and supervises the next ranking of sergeant, who keeps tabs on the police unit or squad. A detective is a plain clothes police rank who investigates crimes, such as murders or drug offenses. Within the rank of detective are other rankings that designate supervisory positions.

A police officer is the lowest member of the police ranks totem pole, although there are usually several different police pay grades within the ranking. To move up the ladder from an officer to a captain involves taking examinations, as well as completing a certain amount of time in each rank. To advance above the rank of captain requires an appointment by either the police chief or the commissioner, depending on the department.

Sheriff’s Department Rankings:

The sheriff’s department is a county police force. In some rural areas, the county sheriff’s department is the only law enforcement agency and has a full roster of duties, including undertaking investigations and making arrests. In metropolitan areas, the sheriff’s department’s sole mandate might be the transportation of prisoners, providing courthouse security and serving summonses. The sheriff is the top ranking officer in the department and is almost always an elected official. The assistant sheriff or under-sheriff is the next in line of police ranks in the department, followed by division chief, captain, lieutenant, sergeant, corporal and deputy. A deputy sheriff is essentially the same rank as a police officer.

State Police Ranks:

The state police force (also called state patrol or highway patrol) is responsible for enforcing the law within an entire state’s boundaries. The state police are under the auspices of each state’s Department of Public Safety and are based on a military model, with especially stringent training procedures in most places. The police ranks of this enforcement agency are similar to that of military rankings. The top police ranking is colonel. Below colonel is the rank of lieutenant colonel, then major, captain, lieutenant, sergeant, trooper first class, and trooper.

Because of the variance of police ranks within various law enforcement agencies, it’s best to check the specific agency that’s of interest to you in order to get a clearer picture of the individual rankings.

About the author

"Become a Cop" articles are intended to educate individuals interested in law enforcement careers about what it takes to join the force. These articles are written by PoliceOne staff members and PoliceOne contributors, and cover a wide range of topics from the basics on the different types of law enforcement careers to how to prepare for the police recruitment interview. If there's a topic you'd like to see covered, or are interested in writing for Become a Cop, email editor@policeone.com.




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