The term "Law enforcement officer" (LEO) is often used to refer to police officers, which are often the first to come to mind when prompted for example of law enforcement.

As I understand it this term also covers corrections (jail) officers. Does the term also encompass judges? What other classes of positions does the term LEO include?

  • I don't think this has an answer, though most (but not all) people use it to refer to government employees: this is really a question of usage, not one of defining a legal term. You might get a more definite answer if you presuppose some special power that you think LEOs all have. Or, pick a specific state (though you may have to change the term to "peace officer").
    – user6726
    Aug 31, 2017 at 16:10

1 Answer 1


The term "law enforcement officer" is defined in different jurisdictions in different ways and is defined in different ways for different purposes. For example, a criminal code might define law enforcement officer in reference to arrest power, while another statute might used the term for H.R. and licensing regulations, and a third might use a functional definition for eligibility for a certain kind of tax deduction under state law. Not every jurisdiction has every kind of law enforcement officer either.

The term "law enforcement officer" would almost never include a judge or prosecuting attorneys, but would sometimes include a law clerk for a judge. This is because law clerks, especially in rural areas, often have a dual appointment as a law clerk (basically a lawyer acting as a research assistant for a judge) and as a bailiff who is an officer of the court charged with maintaining order and security in the courthouse, or at least in an individual judge's courtroom. A bailiff would often be classified as a "law enforcement officer."

Law enforcement officers would ordinarily include

  • Municipal police.
  • Town Constables.
  • County sheriffs and deputy sheriffs.
  • Bailiffs.
  • Marshals including U.S. Marshals.
  • Some Park Rangers.
  • State police.
  • Mounties (i.e. Royal Mounted Police in Canada).
  • Texas Rangers.
  • College or university security officers.
  • Transit system security officers.
  • FBI agents.
  • Secret Service agents.
  • DEA agents (i.e. drug enforcement agency).
  • ICE Agents (i.e. immigration and customs enforcement)
  • General services administration officers (i.e. federal building security).

There would be differences from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and based upon the context in which the term was used over whether some of the following persons would be law enforcement officers for particular purposes:

  • Coroners and deputy coroners.
  • Military police.
  • Parking enforcement officers.
  • Ordinance and building code enforcement officers.
  • Crossing guards.
  • Law enforcement forensic lab employees and CSI officers.
  • Diplomatic protection corps employees of the State Department
  • Justices of the peace (who historically had both judicial and law enforcement duties although now this is mostly the title of a non-law enforcement judge).
  • Confidential informants under contract.

A Florida statute cited as an answer to a previous question you asked about impersonating a law enforcement officer included the following list, from which I have marked in bold those that would often not be considered law enforcement officers:

  • firefighter
  • sheriff
  • officer of the Florida Highway Patrol
  • officer of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
  • fire or arson investigator of the Department of Financial Services
  • officer of the Department of Financial Services
  • officer of the Department of Corrections
  • correctional probation officer
  • deputy sheriff
  • state attorney or assistant state attorney
  • statewide prosecutor or assistant statewide prosecutor
  • state attorney investigator
  • coroner
  • police officer
  • lottery special agent or lottery investigator
  • beverage enforcement agent
  • watchman
  • any member of the Florida Commission on Offender Review and any administrative aide or supervisor employed by the commission
  • any personnel or representative of the Department of Law Enforcement
  • a federal law enforcement officer as defined in s. 901.1505

Some of bolded categories are marked that way because some people identified would count as law enforcement officers, but clerical and administrative personnel in those offices would ordinarily not be considered law enforcement officers.

Correctional officers are frequently considered law enforcement officers for some purposes and not others.

  • Nice. Maybe there is a property of an LEO that is a 'common thread' that binds the examples in this fine post?
    – gatorback
    Sep 1, 2017 at 1:35
  • @gatorback For the most part people who investigate crimes or other violations of the law, and/or arrest or restrain people who have committed them, on behalf of the government, although there isn't total consistency with that definition. The arrest or restrain part is more important than the investigate part, although LEOs arrest power is distinguished from a citizen's arrest primarily because it can be made on the basis of an investigation rather than only on the basis of personal knowledge that the person committed the crime since it was observed.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 1, 2017 at 6:45

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