When ranking the "power"(see footnote 1) over a community, the ordinary citizen will have the least power while the local police in the respectful community (street, city etc.) will have more legal power to do certain things (at an extent). Examples could be, breaking into a house (warrant), searching another persons car if there is ground for suspicion, walking with a firearm in public and allowed to use it to disarm a deadly force (generally speaking, for all countries and communities alike) etc.


Are there any government forces (see footnote 2) which has more power over the local police? I know some certain countries combined with certain government structure like the Queen of England, has the "supreme power" which makes her (when looking at jurisdiction) "invincible". I also know that some organisations like NATO makes their military have more power than some development countries.

I accept answers based globally and also in specific countries and communities, so if I write "FBI, CIA" it is only examples and should NOT be seen as ONLY America. Furthermore, links or statements to the "book of law" for your specific country are also accepted. The question and answers will be used for research purposes on my paper that I am working on.


During one of my lectures, my Professor ended his lecture with If the Queen of England pointed a gun at the President of America and the President of America pointed a gun at the Queen of England, could you prosecute and/ or charge any of them? This was just a funny thought which I will post here also.


  1. With power is measured how much legal action a body has according to jurisdiktion.
  2. With government forces is meant any government, branches - hereby of police, military, special forces, FBI, CIA, positions of authority like President, foreign affairs, Kings, Queens, Princes, Princesses, The Head of State's personal staff (hereby Doctors, bodyguards, nutrients, Chef etc.).
  • 2
    This is really more of a Politics.SE question although it isn't unambiguously out of line.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 2, 2021 at 22:11

3 Answers 3


The question that you pose can't be answered in the abstract and the conceptual framework you introduce in the section entitled "Resume" is largely unsound from a legal perspective, even if it may have some political theory usefulness.

Indeed, even the framework of "relative power" doesn't really work. The question almost always presents itself in a binary fashion. Either a law enforcement officer has authority to do some particular thing, or the officer doesn't. Frequently, there are multiple law enforcement officers in different agencies who all have the authority to do a particular thing, and whoever gets there first may do so.

In U.S. law, law enforcement is highly decentralized. There are hundreds of distinct federal law enforcement agencies, dozens of distinct law enforcement agencies in every single state, and almost every local government (sometimes even school districts, water boards, and park districts) have their own law enforcement agencies.

All told, the number of independent law enforcement agencies in the U.S. is in the low tens of thousands. Something on the order of 90%+ of those law enforcement officers report to local governments like cities and counties and have no direct chain of authority that goes up beyond that point. The remainder are split roughly equally between the state level and the federal level, but highly fragmented within each such level between different agencies within each state and with the federal government. The most common kind of law enforcement officer in the federal government is not the stereotypical F.B.I. agent. Instead, it is a federal park ranger. A few small states are more centralized (e.g. Hawaii), but massive decentralization is the norm.

The law enforcement officers in every single one of those agencies has a statutorily defined jurisdiction. Rather than being a neat hierarchy in which one law enforcement agent is always superior to another law enforcement agent, one has to analyze the circumstances in light of a particular grant of jurisdiction. There are general trends in how these grants of authority are made, but they are far from uniform.

Most grants of authority include both territorial and subject matter elements.

State police can typically arrest anyone for a violation of state law within their state, but not for violations of federal law or the laws of another state under circumstances where a citizens arrest is not authorized and where there isn't a warrant outstanding. A state game warden can arrest you for violating hunting laws in his geographic area, but not for violating state tax laws or federal immigration laws.

A village constable in a tiny hamlet in rural Tennessee can arrest the chief of police for the Tennessee Valley Authority's law enforcement agency (the TVA is a federally charted independent government agency), for drunk driving in that constable's village. In contrast, an F.B.I. special agent doesn't have the authority to make that arrest, but could arrest either the village constable or the TVA chief of police for taking a bribe contrary to federal anti-corruption laws.

There are law enforcement officers who specialize in investigating crimes by other law enforcement officers (often in the same agency). In state and local police agencies these are usually called "internal affairs officers", with a unit in the state police or state bureau of investigation that works closely with a unit of the state attorney general's office having a secondary role in this task.

In the federal government, the Inspector General's office in each cabinet department is typically charged with primary responsibility for these kinds of investigations. In the military, improprieties by active duty soldiers in connection with their implementation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice would usually be investigated by the criminal investigation service in each cabinet level department (i.e. the Army, the Navy (including the Marines Corps), and the Air Force) within the Department of Defense.

But in neither case is the conceptual issue one of authority. Usually any law enforcement officer in a particular agency has authority to arrest any other law enforcement officer from the same agency (with the possible exception of their direct superiors). It is a question of focus and job responsibilities, not of legal authority.

There is a notion of federal supremacy under the U.S. Constitution. In a bald showdown of authority between federal law enforcement officers and state law enforcement officers, say, over who is entitled to custody of a non-law enforcement officer criminal who has been arrested, the federal law enforcement officers will prevail.

But, these showdowns are rare, and interagency conflicts within state governments and the federal government respectively, if not reconciled sooner, are more often resolved by a Governor or President, through a chain of management command authority within that governmental entity, than in the courts. Even when there is no one shared chief executive between law enforcement officers, usually these disputes are resolved by negotiation between the chiefs of the respective officers, rather than through legal channels.

This is much less true in most countries other than the U.S. Most countries have far fewer independent law enforcement agencies, and have more clear and hierarchical lines of authority between them. This distinction is illustrated by your professor's example:

If the Queen of England pointed a gun at the President of America and the President of America pointed a gun at the Queen of England, could you prosecute and/ or charge any of them?

In the U.K., nobody has the authority to arrest the Queen, and the authority to arrest the U.S. President would be highly limited by diplomatic treaties relating to the treatment of foreign heads of state.

In the U.S., the question is tricker and quite fact specific.

The President has immunity for his official acts, but not for his private acts. If this standoff with guns breaks out on the floor of the U.N. in the context of a breakdown of negotiations, the President hasn't committed a U.S. crime.

On the other hand, suppose that the President and the Queen have been having a private tryst at a bed and breakfast at our small village hamlet in Tennessee where they have managed to escape their respective security details. (Pardon me for bringing such an icky vision into your head, this is purely for educational purposes and you should censor your own thoughts as you imagine it. I blame the questioner's professor for presenting a scenario that has this possible aspect to it.)

The village constable can arrest the President for this crime in violation of Tennessee law (assuming that the President doesn't have legal justification for his acts such as self-defense) since this act was conducted in an unofficial capacity. But he probably can't arrest and charge the Queen under diplomatic treaties that the U.S. has with the U.K. In contrast, a U.S. Secret Service agent would have authority to seize the Queen sufficiently to disarm her and prevent her from being a threat to the President, even if he couldn't charge her with any crime.

  • I suspect that if the US President and the Queen of England escaped their security details to have a tryst and then pulled guns on each other, the local law enforcement officer would probably be more likely to riddle them both with bullets than arrest them, and then claim to be afraid for his life since they both had guns afterwards. ;)
    – nick012000
    Dec 3, 2021 at 0:01

Regarding the part of your question which mentioned the military, many countries have different rules for peacetime, state of emergency, and wartime. Once the state of emergency or law is declared in accordance with the constitutional process, the government in general and the military in specific get expanded powers.

Where I live, right now, the military has few powers outside their bases. The military police has some more, but still fewer powers than civil police. If there was a foreign invasion, the rules would change.

Another issue, I'm not sure if I understand your question correctly, but the respect of the community cuts both ways. Parts of the population who outwardly respect the police are often also those who have the social/cultural means to make their displeasure known. Knowing how to lodge a formal complaint, or how to file a lawsuit, might make it unnecessary to ever do so. In the United States, this is known as White Privilege. Similar effect exist in other countries. This is of course not formally part of the law, so I wondered about translations.


The US legal system is designed to minimize "power" (as defined), to prevent one entity from having substantially greater power compared to others. The police cannot break into a house, they require permission of the occupant or of the court; the court cannot grant permission for a search unless certain conditions are met, and they only consider giving response to a request by another governmental agency (not sua sponte, not some neighbor or curious person). "The police" is a law-enforcement agency that (generally) falls under the executive branches of government. In general, an individual citizen can "do whatever he wants" as long as it is not forbidden by law, but law enforcement is limited to doing that which they are authorized to do.

The executive branch is only empowered to implement those laws that are passed by the legislative branches. The executive (the individual) does not directly enforce laws, he issues orders (following certain rules) to others who (give orders to) enforce laws. The executive branch plays a role in law-creation, via the requirement that laws created by the legislative branch either also be approved by the executive, or be re-approved by the legislative branch by a super-majority after a veto.

The legislative branch has the power to create and modify laws, also to impose taxes and spend money. That power is diffused across many individuals, with a requirement that there must be general agreement to any action (whereas an ordinary citizen can do anything he wants without seeking the approval of those around him). The legislative branch's power ends at saying what the law is: they do not enforce laws. They are also constrained by the constitutions that exist (federal and state, possibly county charter); and the court system may also deem that a certain legislative act contradicts those constitutions, or other legal principles – that limits what the legislative branch can do.

The courts then simply decide what is legally allowed in a given situation, in light of all of the preceding.

Ultimately, the non-governmental "citizenry" has the greatest power in the US, because they have ultimate direct authority over who is admitted into the legislative and executive branches, and below the federal level (and depending on position) the court system. There is no clear entity with "superior power" in the US, superior power is highly contextualized.

This is also a rather theoretical treatment. The executive does actually wield greatest power, because legislative branches tend to acquiesce to the wishes of the executive, and they legislatively pass the buck to the executive (hence myriad covid mandates issued by governors, because governors have been granted significant emergency powers). Politically speaking, the executive does have the "power" to ask the legislative branch to do his bidding.

If you focus on fairly specific domains, you can find clear cases of "greater power". Nuclear weapons are under the control of the military which is under the control of the President. Only panels of scientists (ordinary citizens) have the authority to recommend approval of new medical treatments (the panel is selected by agents of the executive branch, appointees of appointees of appointees of the President, with the approval of a part of the legislative branch).

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