What Does LEO Mean in Law Enforcement?

If you’ve ever read any other law enforcement blogs, criminal justice job descriptions, or specialized articles you may have come across LEO. So what does LEO mean? Is it just an astrological sign? A name? Or, as you may have figured already, it means Law Enforcement Ooooooooo.

LEO is an acronym often used by police officers, law enforcement industry professionals, bloggers and writers, and those who forget to tell us before hand that LEO stands for Law Enforcement Officer.

Simple! Duh! Well, not quite…

I’ve noticed that many who are not part of the industry, but are seeking some good info, seem to find random pages on the Internet with blog posts and forum discussions that ramble on and on about LEO this and LEO that. In the end, you end up searching for what LEO means because you’re not sure what the “O” stands for.

A law enforcement officer (LEO) is any individual who is sworn in as a police officer, sheriff deputy, state trooper, or a federal agent to enforce the laws of the jurisdiction he or she serves.

Some other careers that are considered LEO positions include:

Most corrections positions, such as prison guard or prison warden, are not considered law enforcement officer positions. Most crime scene investigation careers are also non law enforcement officer positions, although many crime scene investigators (CSIs) are sworn in LEOs and can utilize the powers of arrest. These and many other, including any of the LEO positions, are part of a bigger career spectrum: criminal justice careers – where law enforcement, legal, corrections, forensic, and private careers are all sub-fields of criminal justice.

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

9 comments… add one
  • Several years ago while researching for a book I was writing, I spent a lot of time trying to, and being successful at infiltrating dozens of ‘forums’ that were frequented by the online scammers and hackers, known now as ‘identity thieves’. They called themselves ‘carders’, as in credit card information scams. About ten years ago, before most people became aware of this underworld, the only law enforcement group chasing them down was the FBI and the Secret Service. They were known simply as LE.

    I noticed from your post that you do not consider corrections officers LEO, but many would beg to differ as they consider themselves the front line in intelligence gathering for their brothers on the other side of the walls. These days, with the sophistication and reach of prison gangs to the streets outside the prisons, the guards are the best source of information assisting the federal law enforcement officials indicated in your article.

    • Radek M. Gadek

      They can be considered a part of the Criminal Justice system, some might say even Law Enforcement. I classified it as such, because most prison guards do not have powers to enforce the Law. Sworn in LEOs, like Sheriff’s Deputies, are often the people who investigate information that is provided by prison personnel. But, I still agree with your point of view, they are certainly an invaluable asset in the criminal justice community.

  • lolo

    so if i get a bachelor in science in criminal justice in the correctional administration, i cant become a detective? what happens if i get this bachelor then become a police officer i can become a detective that way, can I ?
    or do I have to change my major into the police administration field?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Check out my articles on how to become a police officer and a detective under the “Careers” section in the top navigation. In short, you’ll most likely have to put in your “fair share” in order to advance to the detective position.

  • Frank Smithers

    Mr. Gadek, I am a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officer. I have served the state for 26 years. My current assignment is the patrol officer for the graveyard shift. I patrol and respond to calls for service from civilian workers and residents. I write reports and investigate all types of crimes and traffic accidents. I conduct traffic stops, some for infractions and some felony. I know the penal code, vehicle code, welfare and institutions code and the health and safety code. I drive a Crown Vic. with light bars and sirens. I have access to clets, state DMV records and a host of other law enforcement tools. I back up local city police, county sheriffs and even the CHP. I have detained and arrested persons for misdemeanors and felonies. I derive my authority from the California penal code. I am not the only corrections officer in this state that performs this type of job. I believe I serve a dual role as a corrections officer. Sometimes I am a guard working with felons. Other times I am a LEO. Anyway you state it though, I am still a member of the community of peace officers attempting to make this world a little safer. I respect and admire all law enforcement, corrections, airport police, troopers, CHP, transit police, housing police and anyone who goes to work each day knowing in the back of their minds that they may be killed or injured while in service to the communities they willingly serve each and every day. Thanks to all the men and women in the federal, state, county, cities and any agency I may have forgotten for their service.

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Thank you Frank

  • john

    What year was LEO (law enforcement officer) first used?

  • joe

    So, when one inmate kills another inmate, and the correctional officers detain the perpetrating inmate, write and file the incident reports, and testify in court… that’s not enforcing law?

  • DW

    Federally, the GAO classifies US Bureau of Prisons officers as “Law Enforcement Officers”… see: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d07121.pdf

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