There are many ways to serve in Federal law enforcement with agencies as diverse as the FBI to the Amtrak railroad police. The best way to begin preparing for a career in law enforcement at the Federal level is to understand what each agency does and what qualifications they demand from applicants. These are the major branches of Federal law enforcement with a brief description of their area of responsibility, candidate requirements and where to begin the application process:
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION (FBI):
The FBI is a governmental agency created under the auspices of the Department of Justice to serve as a Federal investigative agency. Originally known as the Bureau of Investigation (BOI), the agency began using their current name in 1935. The FBI has investigative and enforcement power over two hundred different types of Federal crime. In addition, the FBI serves as the lead agency for counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and domestic intelligence.
The selection process for FBI agents is one of the most competitive and rigorous of any law enforcement agency in the world. Applicants must be between the age of 23 and 37 years old. There are some exceptions to these age guidelines for US military veterans. Applicants must be United States citizens, hold a valid US state or territory issued driver license and have a four-year degree from an accredited university. Three years of professional experience is necessary as well though it can be at least partially satisfied by postgraduate study. Candidates must also be willing to transfer anywhere in the world for duty.
The FBI application process is in itself very complex. Candidates apply for special agent status via one of five entry tracks focusing on specific skill sets and each with their own qualification requirements. For any track, however, the prospective candidate will begin by contacting the FBI and arranging for a qualification test.
DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION (DEA):
As the name suggests, the DEA is charged with enforcement of United States illegal drug laws. The primary goal of the DEA is to disrupt the flow of illegal drugs into the United States at the source–suppliers, dealers and the financial network that facilitates transactions between them. A DEA Special Agent’s job focuses on investigating drug-related crimes, often working in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies at the state, local or Federal level. In addition, the DEA has a variety of specialized disciplines that include work in foreign countries which requires a high level of language skills and an aviation division including airplane and drone pilots.
Candidates for DEA Special Agent must be US citizens between 21 and 36 years of age. They must have a four-year college degree or equivalent law enforcement experience. In addition, they must pass a drug test, a thorough background check and be willing to relocate anywhere in the world. More than half of all successful DEA Special Agent applicants have prior law enforcement experience. Prospective candidates are advised to contact their regional DEA Recruitment Office for information on orientation sessions that will provide further information.
BUREAU OF ALCOHOL, TOBACCO, FIREARMS AND EXPLOSIVES (ATF):
An ATF Special Agent is responsible for investigating and enforcing laws related to firearms, tobacco, alcohol, as well as arson related crimes and the illegal use of explosives. To qualify as an ATF special agent, you must be a US citizen between the ages of 21 and 36 years old and have valid drivers license. In addition, candidates must pass a battery of written tests, a field panel interview and meet physical fitness and medical requirements. Applicants must also complete a polygraph test, background check, and drug test. The first step in applying to be an ATF Special Agent is to contact the field recruiter at your regional office.
USPS POSTAL INSPECTION SERVICE:
USPS Postal Inspectors are Federal law enforcement agents responsible for the investigation and enforcement of crimes involving the US postal system including mail theft, fraud and identity theft. To qualify for service as a US Postal Inspector, you must be a US citizen between the age of 21 and 36, registered with US Selective Service and have no record of felony or domestic violence convictions. A candidate must have a four-year degree from an accredited college or university. A drug test is also mandatory. The first step in the hiring process is to check for current job openings on the Postal Inspection Service website (postalinspectors.uspis.gov). If open positions are being filled the prospective candidate can fill out an online application.
US SECRET SERVICE:
The US Secret Service has two primary functions–to protect government officials, visiting dignitaries and provide security at special events along with investigating and enforcing crimes against the US financial system. A Secret Service Special Agent must be a US citizen between the age of 21 and 40, pass a vision test and have a valid drivers license. They must also meet physical fitness standards, pass a background investigation, a polygraph test, a drug test, a written test and a medical exam. Candidates must not have visible body art such as tattoos or piercings. If they do, they must remove them at personal expense before beginning service. Prospective candidates begin the hiring process by checking current openings on the US Secret Service website (www.secretservice.gov) where they can complete an online application.