Sworn and Civilian Personnel

Every police organization is comprised of
sworn and civilian personnel.  All those
individuals who are sworn have police
powers while the civilians do not.  In the
higher management levels of police
departments there are positions which
may be held by either a sworn individual
or a civilian.  For instance, the
management of your department's Public
Information Office might well be led by a
civilian who has background experience
with news organizations.

Let's say your department has several
high level positions held by civilians.  
Their positions will be designated by a
rank such as Director.  The director rank
will probably be associated with a sworn
rank for pay grade purposes only.  In
this example we'll associate the sworn
rank of major with director.  The civilian
director will have the same command
authority as a major over those people,
sworn and civilian, who work under the
limited scope of the director.  However,
outside the civilian director's area of
expertise, that same command authority
does not extend.

Let's say you're on the street handling a
robbery incident.  The Director of Public
Information, who is a civilian,  is on the
scene.  The Director orders you to
participate in an interview with a
television news crew.  This probably
wouldn't happen, but if it did, what would
you do?  Remember, you don't work in
the public information office.  If you say
you'd refuse the Director's order, you'd
be insubordinate.  The Director's order is
not unlawful, and the order is certainly
within the scope of the Director's
expertise and authority.

This time, the Director orders you to pick
up shell casings, from shots fired during
the robbery, from the street so they
won't get lost.  You've already marked
the locations of the casings, and you're
waiting for the crime lab to photograph
the scene and collect the casings.  Do
you follow the Director's order?  This
should be a no brainer.  The Director is
clearly giving orders outside his or her
area of expertise, and you would not be
insubordinate in refusing the order.  
You'd diplomatically explain to the
Director that you're following procedure.  
If the Director would persist, you'd
simply call for your sergeant to continue
the debate.

When the Director is a sworn member,
that Director has the tactical command
responsibility of any scene where there is
not another sworn member of equal or
higher rank.  In the example I just
described, if the Director is a Major, he or
she won't direct you to pick up the
casings.  However, you'd be required to
follow any and all lawful orders given you
by a sworn Director.

Entry Level Rank

When you begin your career as a sworn
police officer, your rank will be police
officer.  While you may have the lowest
rank in the department, you'll be vested
with full authority under the law.  Your
authority to enforce laws is identical to
the same authority possessed by the
highest sworn member of your police

Supervisory Ranks

Corporal: Not all police departments will
have the rank of corporal.  Where the
rank does exist, the corporal will have
supervisory responsibilities.  When your
sergeant is on leave or otherwise not
available, the corporal will assume the
sergeant's supervisory duties.

Officer-In-Charge:   When your squad
supervisor (sergeant) is on leave or
otherwise unavailable, and there is no
other supervisor of permanent rank
available, a police officer will be
designated to supervise the squad. While
titles may vary among police
departments, I'll use the term OIC for
officer-in-charge.  Your sergeant may
rotate the OIC position, or a regular OIC
may be designated.  When the OIC is in
charge, that police officer is effectively an
acting sergeant with all the authority and
responsibilities associated with a
permanent rank sergeant.

Sergeant:  The sergeant is usually the
first supervisory rank within a police
department.  In my opinion, the sergeant
is the most important and influential
rank.  The sergeant is a supervisor,
trainer, and facilitator.  Whether the
sergeant is supervising a squad in patrol
or officers of a specialized unit, the
sergeant has enormous influence over
morale and implementation of
departmental policies.

Lieutenant:  The lieutenant is usually the
first managerial position within a police
department.  Lieutenants can be
assigned to a wide range of duties from
the traditional patrol shift commander to
commanding smaller specialized units.  
The lieutenant is always responsible for
the administrative functions for the shifts
and units they command.  

Captain: The captain is usually the first
command rank within a police
department.  The captain may command
a district or precinct.

Major; Lieutenant Coronel; Coronel:
These are all command ranks within a
police department.  How they are utilized
depends upon the size of a police
department, budgetary considerations,
and the wishes of the police chief.  For
example, majors might be assigned as
district/precinct commanders or
commanders of specialized functions
such as the director positions I described
earlier.  The lieutenant coronel might be
an area commander in charge of three
districts/precincts while a coronel may be
in charge of all the departments

It all depends on the size of the police
department.  The larger a police
department is will determine how closely
the ranks fit the traditional military
model.  You might come across a police
department with a total of 25 sworn
members.  In this department there's a
police chief; three majors; five captains;
six lieutenants; seven sergeants and
three police officers.  Obviously...the
assignment of duties within this
department does not follow any military
model.  While one could say the
command structure of this department is
top heavy, it's not a big deal since the
real rank structure is known to everyone
because of the limited number of people.  
In this department, the rank structure is
probably based more on seniority and
pay grades rather than responsibilities
traditionally associated with the ranks.
...the idea that American police
departments are paramilitary is
If a police department maintains the
duties and responsibilities of a traditional
model, it should be obvious why too
many bosses can really complicate things
and cause a lot of people a lot of extra
work.  When too many positions of
authority exist, the people in those
positions are constantly looking for ways
to justify their existence. That
justification usually comes in the form of
officers, sergeants, and lieutenants
tasked with implementing and tracking
superfluous and sometimes useless
policies and projects.

What I've described is only a general
guide to give you some understanding of
how police rank structures work.  There
is no single, one size fits all definition.  
When you apply to a police department,
you should make yourself intimately
familiar with that department's rank
structure.  You'll be much better
prepared for any interview when you're
familiar with the ranks and responsibilities
associated with the ranks.  You'll also
become familiar with unique terminology
to that department which will aid you in
smoothly communicating with your
"While you may have the lowest rank
in the department, you'll be vested
with full authority under the law."
~ Barry M. Baker
For those of you who've served in the
military, you're throughly familiar with
rank structure, and the general
responsibilities and duties associated with
various ranks.  Police departments have
always followed the military rank
structure for one very simple reason...it's
the most efficient structure for an
organization where discipline and the
clear delineation of responsibilities is
Police Rank

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Copyright © 2021  Barry M. Baker  
American police departments are not
paramilitary organizations.  Simply
because of the military rank structure, or
specialized units within police
departments such as SWAT teams that
use refined military tactics in resolving
high risk life threatening situations does
not define a police department as
paramilitary.  Some people, even
supposedly intelligent ones, like to throw
around the paramilitary label for self
serving purposes.  When you become a
police officer, you'll run into to those who
think the military appearance of uniforms
and rank insignias present an image
which is too harsh and authoritarian.  
Some of these people even find their way
into leadership positions in police
departments where they waste
everybody's time with their social
experiments.  In the end, the uniforms
and insignias survive because that's what
works best.

Paramilitary -
a - 1. designating, of, or
having to do with forces working
alongside of or in place of a regular
military organization, usually as a
semi-official, often secret, auxiliary.
2.  Designating or of a private, often
secret, quasi-military organization.  
(Webster's Dictionary)

In countries that have a single national
police force that may well be controlled by
that country's military, paramilitary
organizations can survive within the
police structure.  In the United States,
where over 18,000 police departments
exist under the supervision of state and
local governments, the idea that
American police departments are
paramilitary is nonsense.
Becoming a Police Officer
An Insider's Guide to a Career
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