I used to work in an area where I would often see the Federal Reserve Police, due to the presence of a Federal Reserve Bank. These police officers do have police powers including the power to arrest suspects, despite the fact the Federal Reserve Bank is a private orginization.

There are other examples of private police forces with some police power, for example, many private universities have their own police force who at minimum have the right to detain suspects. The Amtrak Police is another example, however is a little more blurry since Amtrak is a federally chartered corporation.

I feel like for most of my life I was under the impression that police power solely belonged to the state, but this is obviously incorrect. I am wondering who has the authorisation to create these organisations, and how it's determined what their jurisdiction is and what police powers and protections they have.

4 Answers 4


FRP is not a private police - they are created by congress.

The Federal Reserve Bank is not just a private organisation: it's also a governmental agency and as such some parts (mainly the Board of Governers) of it do have Policing Power as they are part of "the government". However, the 12 branches are private organizations.

The Federal Reserve Police was created and empowered by an act of Congress, together with the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. The FRP hides in 12 U.S. Code § 248 (q).

Campus Security is either an agent of the university or deputized

Often enough, Campus security is not a police force that has governmental backing, they are simply agents of the landowner (the university) that carry the power of the landowner's domiciliary rights. They are tasked with enforcing the house rules, assisting with keeping the peace (e.g. by enforcing citizen arrests or trespassing violators), and calling in the actual police if needed.

In some cases, such campus security is deputized by the state, which means the state does grant them actual police power.

Railroad police is deputized.

While railroad police is a branch of private railroad carrier companies, the actual states in which these operate deputize those individuals using a Federal law to grant them any power besides domiciliary rights, meaning again, the states grant the police power:

49 U.S. Code § 28101 (b)Assignment.— A railroad police officer directly employed by or contracted by a railroad carrier and certified or commissioned as a police officer under the laws of a State [...]


Only governments can authorise police

I'm using "police" here in a broad sense to refer to organisations that have policing power within their domain. This includes actual police forces, but it can also include special-purpose organisations like transport police, intelligence organisations, customs and border security, coast guards, military units in areas under martial law, emergency services during emergencies etc.

The exact scope and reach of their powers will depend on the laws that established them and to what extent they can exercise the power of a constable at common law (q.v.).

As others have pointed out, the Federal Reserve Police are a police force established by Congress.

The power to arrest is not an exclusive police power

At common law, anyone and everyone has the right to arrest a person actively committing a crime, the so-called citizen's arrest - although non-citizens can do it too. Reasonable force is allowed to effect the arrest. Once an arrest has been effected, the arrested person must be transferred to lawful custody of a judge or, more usually, a police officer as soon as practicable. That's what distinguishes an arrest from a kidnapping.

Where police are different is they can arrest if they reasonably believe that someone has committed a crime in the past. This is known as the power of a constable at common law.

Private security are not police

Depending on the jurisdiction, private security organisations and personnel may need licences.

Whether they do or not, they do not have the powers of police. They can arrest people as described above, but they cannot detain them.

Of course, what's legal and what happens are not always the same thing.


Ultimately, it is the state or the federal govenment. A specific example is the Yale University police department, which was indirectly authorized by Connecticut Public Act 83-466 § 3. Specifically,

The City of New Haven, acting through its board of police commissioners, may appoint persons designated by Yale University to act as Yale University police officers. Such officers having duly qualified under section 7-294d of the general statutes, and having been sworn, shall have all the powers conferred upon municipal police officers for the city of New Haven. They shall be deemed for all purposes to be agents and employees of Yale University, subject to such conditions as may be mutually agreed upon by the city of New Haven, acting through its board of police commissioners, and Yale University

There is a similar provision regarding the University of New Haven. On the other hand, in Washington, there are no "private police", but there are security officers. Generally, actual "police power" is only granted by the state to an arm of the government.


Specialist law enforcement exist due to taxes, or specifically the lack thereof.

These police forces usually exist because the organization does not pay city or county property taxes since they are a school, non-profit, or a higher level of government, yet they require significant law enforcement services.

Often police forces will be created and authorized at the same time the underlying organization is. For example, if a commuter rail line is built spanning multiple counties, a transit police force may be authorized during the formation of the transit district.

Thus, it isn't simply a matter that a mall or theme park desires private police so they ask for one, it almost always requires some sort of special taxation or governmental status.

This also occurs with fire departments, though in many cases the organization simply pays the city/county for fire coverage.

It is also why states have dedicated police for major highways, often called highway patrols: the state-owned highways do not directly contribute to county or city tax coffers to cover the services they require.

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