Law enforcement
Law enforcement broadly refers to any system by which some members of society
A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations...

 act in an organized manner to promote adherence to the law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

 by discovering and punishing persons who violate the rules and norms governing that society. Although the term may encompass entities such as court
A court is a form of tribunal, often a governmental institution, with the authority to adjudicate legal disputes between parties and carry out the administration of justice in civil, criminal, and administrative matters in accordance with the rule of law...

s and prison
A prison is a place in which people are physically confined and, usually, deprived of a range of personal freedoms. Imprisonment or incarceration is a legal penalty that may be imposed by the state for the commission of a crime...

s, it is most frequently applied to those who directly engage in patrols or surveillance to dissuade and discover criminal
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

 activity, and those who investigate crimes and apprehend offenders. Furthermore, although law enforcement may be most concerned with the prevention and punishment of crime
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

s, organizations exist to discourage a wide variety of non-criminal violations of rules and norms, effected through the imposition of less severe consequences.


See also List of law enforcement agencies

Most law enforcement is conducted by some type of law enforcement agency
Law enforcement agency
In North American English, a law enforcement agency is a government agency responsible for the enforcement of the laws.Outside North America, such organizations are called police services. In North America, some of these services are called police while others have other names In North American...

, with the most typical agency fulfilling this role being the police
The police is a personification of the state designated to put in practice the enforced law, protect property and reduce civil disorder in civilian matters. Their powers include the legitimized use of force...

. Societal investment in law enforcement through such organizations can be massive, both in terms of the resources invested in the activity, and in the number of people professionally engaged to perform those functions.

Law enforcement agencies tend to be limited to operating within a specified jurisdiction
Jurisdiction is the practical authority granted to a formally constituted legal body or to a political leader to deal with and make pronouncements on legal matters and, by implication, to administer justice within a defined area of responsibility...

. In some cases, jurisdiction may overlap between organizations; for example, in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, each state has its own statewide law enforcement arms, but the Federal Bureau of Investigation
Federal Bureau of Investigation
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is an agency of the United States Department of Justice that serves as both a federal criminal investigative body and an internal intelligence agency . The FBI has investigative jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal crime...

 is able to act against certain types of crimes occurring in any state. Various specialized segments of society may have their own internal law enforcement arrangements. For example, military
A military is an organization authorized by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. The military may have additional functions of use to its greater society, such as advancing a political agenda e.g...

 organizations may have military police
Military police
Military police are police organisations connected with, or part of, the military of a state. The word can have different meanings in different countries, and may refer to:...


Social control capabilities have increased significantly over the past several decades, particularly because of an increased utilization of technologically advanced surveillance methods. Following the tragic events of September 11, 2001, U.S. Congress and the present Administration have granted law enforcement considerable new powers in the enforcement and prevention of terrorism-related crime. Collectively labeled under the heading of the so-called "war on terror", the scope of such laws, policies and directives are challenged by civil rights organizations and numerous legislators for lack of definitional precision, arbitrary application of sanctions, and violation of privacy laws. One of federal law enforcement’s surveillance tools is ‘‘Project Carnivore,’’ a Justice Department Internet surveillance program that is administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to access information flowing to and from a central processing unit on a network connection. While, theoretically relying on Michel Foucault’s theory of discipline and governmentality, as well as related insights in the social control literature, this paper examines Project Carnivore relative to the larger context of state rationality and related privacy issues.

See also

  • Outline of law enforcement - structured list of topics related to law enforcement, organized by subject area
  • Coming into force
    Coming into force
    Coming into force or entry into force refers to the process by which legislation, regulations, treaties and other legal instruments come to have legal force and effect...

  • Law enforcement organization
  • Law enforcement agency powers
    Law enforcement agency powers
    A law enforcement agency has powers, which other government subjects do not, to enable the LEA to undertake its responsibilities. These powers are generally in one of six forms:*Exemptions from laws...

  • Specialist law enforcement agency
    Specialist law enforcement agency
    A specialist law enforcement agency is a law enforcement agency which specialises in the types of laws it enforces, or types of activities it undertakes, or geography it enforces laws in, or these in combination....

  • Law and order (politics)
    Law and order (politics)
    In politics, law and order refers to demands for a strict criminal justice system, especially in relation to violent and property crime, through harsher criminal penalties...

  • Law enforcement and society
    Law enforcement and society
    The first modern police force, commonly said to be the London Metropolitan Police, established in 1829, promoted the preventive role of police as a deterrent to urban crime and disorder....

  • Secret police
    Secret police
    Secret police are a police agency which operates in secrecy and beyond the law to protect the political power of an individual dictator or an authoritarian political regime....

  • Law (disambiguation)
    Law (disambiguation)
    Law is a set of norms, which can be seen both in a sociological or in a philosophical sense.Law or laws may also refer to:-Government:*Rule of law, the principle that restricts governmental authority...

  • Police (disambiguation)
    Police (disambiguation)
    Police are organizations established to maintain law and order.Police may also refer to:-Entertainment:* The Police, a British band* Police , a film starring Charlie Chaplin...

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