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What police officers need to know about federal law enforcement agencies

Make your community safer with the personnel, resources, knowledge and assets of your federal partners


The ATF’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network program automates ballistics evaluations and provides actionable investigative leads in a timely manner.


If you’ve never been to the IACP Annual Conference and Exhibition you should make plans to visit next year. IACP is the world’s greatest cop shop with everything from T-shirts to helicopters. Hidden among the bronzing artists offering memorial statues and the menagerie of weapons and vehicles named after wild beasts of prey, I found a variety of federal law enforcement-related agencies. I traveled from booth to booth asking a simple question: What should the police officer on the street and the chief or sheriff in Anytown, USA, know about your agency?

Department of Homeland Security

One of the most enthusiastic agents I visited with was Kevin Sibley, deputy special agent in charge from the Tampa office. Agent Sibley, a former INS investigator, joined customs investigators in making up the cadre of homeland security investigators in the post-9/11 reorganization. He has seen the HSI grow to be the second largest federal investigative agency in the land.

When asked what HSI can help local law enforcement with, his response was simple – everything. HSI’s jurisdiction is broad in both geography and subject matter. With special knowledge in cybercrime and currency tracing related to international crime and terrorism, Sibley is ready to respond to local calls for assistance. He noted that accurate documents are needed to apply for any federal benefit and document fraud is one of HSI’s areas of interest. He promised that if his agency doesn’t have the resources to assist local investigations he will find out who does.

As with other federal agencies, notably the DEA and U.S. Marshall’s service, Homeland Security engages in task force efforts when targeting crime in a region. Sharing of equipment, jurisdictional credentialing and providing training and overtime compensation for local law enforcement officers to work with HIS and other federal agencies can be a powerful and efficient response strategy.

I also visited the U.S. Customs and Border Protection information booth. If you live near a border, you already know their resources including aircraft and watercraft for rescue and law enforcement application.

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Arguably the most familiar of all federal law enforcement to civilians and local cops, the FBI’s mission and services are widely known. For IACP purposes, the agent with whom I visited was most concerned about recruiting to fill over 800 special agent positions.

Department of State Diplomatic Security and INL

If you have a foreign dignitary or a VIP of the Department of State visiting your jurisdiction, you’ll be coordinating with the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, just as you would be coordinating with the Secret Service for a Presidential visit.

While most of this agency’s concerns are overseas, they are more concerned with who they protect rather than where. A nearby booth represented the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). The INL trains partner foreign governments in many U.S. locations to enhance international cooperation and efficiency. Unless there is a training effort near you, you probably won’t hear much about the INL.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service

Don’t make the mistake of thinking there has to be a U.S. Navy connection to enjoy cooperation with NCIS. After the U.S.S. Cole bombing in October 2000 while docked in Yemen, the NCIS saw a need for greater inter-agency information sharing. Through their initiative the Law Enforcement Information Sharing (LEIS) Division came about.

Special Agent Kris Peterson, division chief of LEIS, enthusiastically shared how over 2,000 local agencies can access data from other participating agency’s reports to locate fugitives, find residences and previous law enforcement contacts of persons of interest in other jurisdictions, and develop suspect patterns across the country. There is a cost to enter the LEIS system, but no ongoing costs to use or remain in the system.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

The folks at the ATF booth were encouraging law enforcement to participate in the NIBIN program, the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network and the eTrace system. Both efforts serve components of firearms and spent ammunition as the FBI’s database serves DNA and fingerprint matching. The agent explained that most crime labs access NIBIN and gun tracing services after examining a firearm or fired bullets and expended cartridge casing. Unique markings are catalogued and searchable to determine if a weapon recovered by a law enforcement agency has been used in another case. The eTrace does the same for serial numbers on guns. Following where and with whom weapons use occurs can establish a chain of events critical to uncovering patterns of crime. The agent urges departments seizing firearms, even if recovered in a found property call, to submit the weapon for examination so that the data can be retained for possible use.

Defense Logistics Agency

Most famous for giving away helicopters and armored vehicles, the helpful folks at DLA most often provide agencies with first aid kits, computers and a whole host of Department of Defense surplus equipment. Of particular interest is the electro-optics loan program that makes night vision optics available for a small annual lease fee. Every state has a coordinator for the program as an agency’s first point of contact. It is usually the state’s surplus equipment director or state law enforcement agency. This point of contact can provide agencies a list of the ever-changing inventory, and a way to make a wish list of items should they ever become available.

U.S. Marshals Service

America’s first federal law enforcement agency is still going strong apprehending those who are supposed to be behind bars. Actively engaging with local law enforcement to catch up with both federal and local offenders, the U.S. Marshals Service makes over 80,000 arrests yearly with 60,000 of those being state and local fugitives. The Marshal Service’ mandate is to impact violent crime, as well as serve the federal courts. Each of the 94 federal judicial districts has a multi-jurisdictional task force. Local officers can be trained, compensated, equipped and credentialled to help in the task of keeping the Marshals known as the best fugitive hunters in the world.

Drug Enforcement Administration

The DEA representative seemed a little reluctant to say much to a guy wearing a press badge – even a Police1 press badge, but I was reminded that the DEA has helpful information on officer safety in drug investigations, also engages in task forces that supply local officers with training, credentialing, and some funding after a thorough vetting process. They also share 80 percent of assets seized in relation to a drug investigation with the originating agency.

Department of Justice

Two very helpful DOJ-funded projects serve local law enforcement. The Justice Technology Information Center (JTIC) provides policy and research guidance on school safety, body armor and just about anything that a police department might spend a lot of dollars implementing.

One special area of interest is the use of unmanned aircraft. Experts are drawn into the JTIC focus groups in areas of their expertise. Sgt. Neal Landfield, an operator of drones for Arlington (Texas) Police Department shared that JTIC can assist with policy issues and with assistance in selecting the most appropriate aircraft. While he cautioned that many agencies fail to properly abide by Federal Aviation Requirements, he gave several examples of how UAS used in interior and exterior operations can provide enhanced safety and effectiveness in many routine patrol operations.

Vanessa Ruane works for New Mexico Tech, which is one of the entities that provides no-cost training through a federally funded National Domestic Preparedness Consortium (NDPC), to local law enforcement in critical areas such as suicide bomber response, explosive recognition and a whole catalog of training that can be done in residence or at a host agency. Expenses for in-residence training are covered or reimbursed, and many courses allow a graduate to become a trainer, with ongoing materials support from the NDPC.

It’s your money

It is unlikely that even the smallest law enforcement agency will go very long without an opportunity to lean into the services available from our federal partners. It would be wasteful not to use the assets provided by the taxpayers to make your community safer.

Joel Shults retired as Chief of Police in Colorado. Over his 30-year career in uniformed law enforcement and criminal justice education, Joel served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and a bachelor degree in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the U.S. Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over 50 police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards, including the Colorado POST curriculum committee, as a subject matter expert.