How many police forces have jurisdiction in Washington, DC?
September 6, 2006 6:40 PM   Subscribe

How many police forces have jurisdiction in the District of Columbia? (For the purposes of this, I'm taking 'police' to be roughly equivalent to 'people empowered to arrest citizens in (primarily) public areas of the city', excluding e.g. embassy security staff and so on.)

There's at least the Metropolitan Police, the Supreme Court police, the Secret Service, the Park Police, the National Zoo police, the US Mint Police, and the Capitol Police, but I'm sure there are more. Does anybody know either of a definitive list, or have further additions?
posted by chrysippus to Law & Government (10 answers total)
The FBI, the Marshal's service, INS.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:59 PM on September 6, 2006

Definitive list, I don't know. But you forgot:

FBI, Federal Protective Service, State Department Police, Metro Transit Police, Bureau of Engraving and Printing Police, Pentagon Police Department (they might or might not have authority in DC), and Uniformed Secret Service (if you want break it out at that level). There are several other protective services and police departments for various other agencies in DC that I can't recall right now. Do you count departments like the George Washington University Police Department?
posted by skynxnex at 7:05 PM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Drat, the Metro transit police, yes! I knew there was (at least) one obvious one I'd forgotten.

The university police forces are an interesting case: would they have the authority to arrest people off-campus? I suppose that's mainly what I'm interested in: how many different authorities am I potentially answerable to, while walking down the street in DC, minding my own (let's assume, law-abiding) business?

The FOP link is excellent -- thank you! But surely not all of those agencies have police forces in DC (as opposed to having their headquarters in DC, say, which the "become a member" link suggests may be another way to get on that list)?

And why on earth isn't there a definitive list somewhere? You might expect the DC government website to let its citizens know about this, but you would alas be mistaken. (Legal cross-jurisdiction issues aside, surely somebody besides me is curious about this. Does any other city in the country come close to this number of police forces, for instance?)
posted by chrysippus at 8:08 PM on September 6, 2006

Best answer: For the purposes of this, I'm taking 'police' to be roughly equivalent to 'people empowered to arrest citizens

I think the question you're after is "What law enforcement agencies are directed to patrol the D.C. area?" Because you're missing an important point about the concept of jurisdiction, as it's commonly defined in various state and federal laws, and that is, everyone has the power to arrest everyone else.

United States

All states permit citizen arrests if a felony crime is witnessed by the citizen carrying out the arrest, or when a citizen is asked to help apprehend a suspect by the police. The application of state laws varies widely with respect to misdemeanor crimes, breaches of the peace, and felonies not witnessed by the arresting party. Note particularly that American citizens do not have the authorities or the legal protections of the police, and are liable before both the civil law and criminal law for any violation of the rights of another.

These arrest laws are even broader for sworn law enforcement officers. In other words, if a New York cop is on vacation in D.C. and sees a crime being committed, he has the authority to arrest you. And you don't get out of jail on the technicality that he's "out of his jurisdiction." The criminal is bound by the D.C. set of laws and the D.C. law enforcement agencies, not by NYC laws and agencies -- that is what is properly meant by jurisdiction.
posted by frogan at 8:56 PM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

I suppose that's mainly what I'm interested in: how many different authorities am I potentially answerable to, while walking down the street in DC, minding my own (let's assume, law-abiding) business?

But this contradicts your original question. First you asked about who has jurisdiction in DC; now you want to know who might stop you on the street in DC.

Many of the agencies we're talking about have a very narrow patrol area: Supreme Court Police, Capitol Police, National Mint, Park Police, etc. If you're in far NW DC, I really don't think the Capitol Police are going to give one whit what you do (as long as you don't move on one of their protectees), and I imagine that these agencies try to keep out of each other's business as much as possible.

Ultimately, I don't think the number of different police forces is a problem--it's the content of the law that should be at issue. One unified DC police command could harass people just as easily as a hundred different ones, and could do it more efficiently too.
posted by Brian James at 9:24 PM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the clarifications about jurisdictions. I'd thought I'd remembered that there had been issues when (e.g.) DC cops had attempted to pursue people across the District line, and therefore I'd vaguely assumed that there were restrictions on who could arrest whom when (and further, that the word I was looking for to describe that sort of thing was 'jurisdiction').

As for the number of agencies involved, yes, I agree that for instance the Capitol Police doesn't routinely go hunting down crimes in far NW, and of course I also agree that the number of agencies involved needn't correlate with the degree of 'harassment' they impose. I'm not worried about active harassment, and I don't envision myself as the hapless victim of an onerous police state: I do understand that if I want to avoid these agencies' negative attention, I have only to refrain from committing crimes.

I suppose I was simply curious to know how many different police forces a citizen might encounter while moving around the city. (I see officers from at least 5 of these agencies pretty regularly in even far NW.) So, yes, frogan's got it exactly: what I meant was, what law enforcement agencies are directed to patrol [parts of] the D.C. area?

Thanks for all the info!
posted by chrysippus at 4:35 AM on September 7, 2006

My brother would have loved this thread... He was always surprised by the number of "police" he saw in DC. Every now and then, he'd send me an update, and we'd have a chuckle. It was one of those "things" we shared. He would definitely have chimed in with his extensive knowledge, curiosity, and desire to know. Scott, this thread's for you.

His list was in two parts; ones he'd seen, and ones he knew existed, but never saw. Here it is (last updated October, 2003):

Police Agencies In DC
Metropolitan Police
Metro Transit Police
Housing Police
Amtrak Police
Capitol Police
Park Police
Naval District Washington Police
Treasury Police
Secret Service Uniformed Div.
Zoo Police
GSA Police
Postal Police
Defense Protective Service
FBI Police
Veteran's Administration Police
Military Police
Federal Protective Service
Nat'l Institutes of Health Police
Gov. Printing Office Police

To be seen
Pentagon Force Protection Agency (same as Defense Protective Service?)
Library of Congress Police
Supreme Court Police
US Mint Police

posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 7:22 AM on September 7, 2006

I've seen the Supreme Court Police, but they don't patrol around the building in cars or do anything otherwise visible. They are mainly deployed in and around the Court building itself for security, and from a distance you might think they were federal marshals.

I've also personally seen the US Mint Police, Govt Printing Office Police, Naval District Police, Federal Protective Service, FBI Police, Postal Police, Secret Service Uniformed Division, Park Police, Capitol Police, DC Housing Authority Police, Metro Police and the regular DC Metropolitan Police.
posted by thewittyname at 9:07 AM on September 7, 2006

The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center has a list of Federal Law Enforcement Agencies that partner with FLETC. A few non-DC partners are on the list, but it's a little more specific than the FOP list.
posted by ahughey at 7:34 PM on September 7, 2006

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