A peace officer or law enforcement officer (LEO) in North America is any public-sector employee or agent whose duties primarily involve the enforcement of laws. The phrase can include police officers, corrections officers, customs officers, state troopers, special agents, immigration officers, court bailiffs, probation officers, parole officers, arson investigators, auxiliary officers, and sheriffs, marshals, and their deputies. Security guards are not normally law enforcement officers, unless they have been granted powers to enforce particular laws, such as those accredited under a Community Safety Accreditation Scheme.
Modern legal codes use the term peace officer (or in some jurisdictions, law enforcement officer) to include every person vested by the legislating state with law-enforcement authority – traditionally, anyone "sworn, badged, and armable" who can arrest, or refer such arrest for a criminal prosecution. Hence, city police officers, county sheriffs' deputies, and state troopers are usually vested with the same authority within a given jurisdiction. Contract security officers may enforce certain laws and administrative regulations, which may include detainment or apprehension authority, but not arresting. Peace officers may also be able to perform all duties that a law enforcement officer is tasked with, but may or may not be armed with a weapon.
In Canada, the Criminal Code (R.S., c. C-34, s. 2.) defines a peace officer as:
"Peace officer" includes
- (b) a member of the Correctional Service of Canada who is designated as a peace officer pursuant to Part I of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, and a warden, deputy warden, instructor, keeper, jailer, guard and any other officer or permanent employee of a prison other than a penitentiary as defined in Part I of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act,
- (c) a police officer, police constable, bailiff, constable, or other person employed for the preservation and maintenance of the public peace or for the service or execution of civil process,
- (d) an officer within the meaning of the Customs Act, the Excise Act or the Excise Act, 2001, or a person having the powers of such an officer, when performing any duty in the administration of any of those Acts,
- (d.1) an officer authorized under subsection 138(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act,
- (e) a person designated as a fishery guardian under the Fisheries Act when performing any duties or functions under that Act and a person designated as a fishery officer under the Fisheries Act when performing any duties or functions under that Act or the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act,
- (f) the pilot in command of an aircraft
- (i) registered in Canada under regulations made under the Aeronautics Act, or
- (ii) leased without crew and operated by a person who is qualified under regulations made under the Aeronautics Act to be registered as owner of an aircraft registered in Canada under those regulations, while the aircraft is in flight, and
- (g) officers and non-commissioned members of the Canadian Forces who are
- (i) appointed for the purposes of section 156 of the National Defence Act, (Military Police) or
- (ii) employed on duties that the Governor in Council, in regulations made under the National Defence Act for the purposes of this paragraph, has prescribed to be of such a kind as to necessitate that the officers and non-commissioned members performing them have the powers of peace officers;
Section (b) allows for designation as a peace officer for a member of the Correctional Service of Canada under the following via the Corrections and Conditional Release Act:
- 10. The Commissioner may in writing designate any staff member, either by name or by class, to be a peace officer, and a staff member so designated has all the powers, authority, protection and privileges that a peace officer has by law in respect of
- (a) an offender subject to a warrant or to an order for long-term supervision; and
- (b) any person, while the person is in a penitentiary.
In addition, provincial legislatures can designate a class of officers (i.e. Conservation Officers and Park Rangers) to be peace officers.
Most peace officers have jurisdiction throughout the state, but many have limited powers outside their political subdivision. Some peace officers require special permission to carry firearms. Powers are often limited to performance of peace officers’ primary duties (usually, enforcement of specific laws within their political subdivision); however, most have power of arrest anywhere in the state for any public offense that poses immediate danger to person or property.
A private person (i.e., ordinary citizen) may arrest another person for an offense committed in the arresting person’s presence, or if the other person has committed a felony whether or not in the arresting person’s presence (Penal Code § 837), though such an arrest when an offense has not actually occurred leaves a private person open to criminal prosecution and civil liability for false arrest. A peace officer may:
Persons are required to comply with certain instructions given by a peace officer, and certain acts (e.g., battery) committed against a peace officer carry more severe penalties than the same acts against a private person. It is unlawful to resist, delay, or obstruct a peace officer in the course of the officer’s duties (Penal Code § 148[a]).
New York State grants peace officers very specific powers under NYS Criminal Procedure Law, that they may make warrantless arrests, use physical and deadly force, and issue summonses under section 2.20 of that law.
There is a full list of peace officers under Section 2.10 of that law. Below are some examples.
Texas Statutes, Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 2.12, provides:
Art. 2.12, WHO ARE PEACE OFFICERS. The following are peace officers:
- (1) sheriffs, their deputies, and those reserve deputies who hold a permanent peace officer license issued under Chapter 1701, Occupations Code;
- (2) constables, deputy constables, and those reserve deputy constables who hold a permanent peace officer license issued under Chapter 1701, Occupations Code;
- (3) marshals or police officers of an incorporated city, town, or village, and those reserve municipal police officers who hold a permanent peace officer license issued under Chapter 1701, Occupations Code;
- (4) rangers and officers commissioned by the Public Safety Commission and the Director of the Department of Public Safety;
- (5) investigators of the district attorneys', criminal district attorneys', and county attorneys' offices;
- (6) law enforcement agents of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission;
- (7) each member of an arson investigating unit commissioned by a city, a county, or the state;
- (8) officers commissioned under Section 37.081, Education Code, or Subchapter E, Chapter 51, Education Code;
- (9) officers commissioned by the General Services Commission;
- (10) law enforcement officers commissioned by the Parks and Wildlife Commission;
- (11) airport police officers commissioned by a city with a population of more than 1.18 million that operates an airport that serves commercial air carriers;
- (12) airport security personnel commissioned as peace officers by the governing body of any political subdivision of this state, other than a city described by Subdivision (11), that operates an airport that serves commercial air carriers;
- (13) municipal park and recreational patrolmen and security officers;
- (14) security officers and investigators commissioned as peace officers by the comptroller;
- (15) officers commissioned by a water control and improvement district under Section 49.216, Water Code;
- (16) officers commissioned by a board of trustees under Chapter 54, Transportation Code;
- (17) investigators commissioned by the Texas Medical Board;
- (18) officers commissioned by the board of managers of the Dallas County Hospital District, the Tarrant County Hospital District, or the Bexar County Hospital District under Section 281.057, Health and Safety Code;
- (19) county park rangers commissioned under Subchapter E, Chapter 351, Local Government Code;
- (20) investigators employed by the Texas Racing Commission;
- (21) officers commissioned under Chapter 554, Occupations Code;
- (22) officers commissioned by the governing body of a metropolitan rapid transit authority under Section 451.108, Transportation Code, or by a regional transportation authority under Section 452.110, Transportation Code;
- (23) investigators commissioned by the attorney general under Section 402.009, Government Code;
- (24) security officers and investigators commissioned as peace officers under Chapter 466, Government Code;
- (25) an officer employed by the Department of State Health Services under Section 431.2471, Health and Safety Code;
- (26) officers appointed by an appellate court under Subchapter F, Chapter 53, Government Code;
- (27) officers commissioned by the state fire marshal under Chapter 417, Government Code;
- (28) an investigator commissioned by the commissioner of insurance under Section 701.104, Insurance Code;
- (29) apprehension specialists and inspectors general commissioned by the Texas Youth Commission as officers under Sections 61.0451 and 61.0931, Human Resources Code;
- (30) officers appointed by the inspector general of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice under Section 493.019, Government Code;
- (31) investigators commissioned by the Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education under Section 1701.160, Occupations Code;
- (32) commission investigators commissioned by the Texas Private Security Board under Section 1702.061(f), Occupations Code;
- (33) the fire marshal and any officers, inspectors, or investigators commissioned by an emergency services district under Chapter 775, Health and Safety Code;
- (34) officers commissioned by the State Board of Dental Examiners under Section 254.013, Occupations Code, subject to the limitations imposed by that section; and
- (35) investigators commissioned by the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission as officers under Section 141.055, Human Resources Code.