What Does LEO Mean in Law Enforcement?

If you’ve ever heard someone say LEO but weren’t sure what they were talking about, this article is for you! Check out this article to find out what an LEO is and ISN’T!

Have you seen bumper stickers or tee shirts that say “LEO”, but maybe wondered what it means? Not to be confused with our friends who were born between July 23 – August 22 (those are Leos, not LEOs), a LEO is a Law Enforcement Officer.

A Law Enforcement Officer (or LEO) is someone who is employed by the government to protect the community by enforcing the law. While what likely immediately comes to mind when you hear that is a police officer, there are several different types of jobs that are considered LEOs.

In this article, we will explore the most common LEOs that you are likely to encounter and what they do. 

What Types of LEOs Are There?

The 2 main types of LEOs that you would encounter are uniformed officers and “plainclothes” officers or detectives. Their jobs all revolve around (you guessed it) enforcing the law! It is very common to see members of these 2 different categories of LEOs work closely with one another to do their jobs. 

What is a uniformed officer LEO?

Uniformed officers are what you typically think of when you think of an LEO. Depending on their role, they will have a jurisdiction that is either local, county, state, or federal. 

These officer positions are police officers (town and state), sheriffs, border patrol, customs agents, and fish and game wardens, just to name a few. They have a distinct uniform and visible badge identifying them. 

What is a detective LEO?

Detectives or “plainclothes agents” are a little bit harder to spot. These roles are more investigative in nature and while they still carry a badge, it’s often concealed. They work on criminal cases and a lot of their work is centered around research, interviewing, and investigating.

Some examples of this type of investigative role would be an FBI agent, criminal investigator, Secret Service agents, Air Marshals, ATF agents, etc. These may not be what immediately comes to mind when you hear LEO, but they are an important aspect of the industry.

What criminal justice jobs are not considered a LEO?

LEO support positions are typically not considered to be LEOs themselves because they are not sworn in and their roles are not specifically tied to enforcing the law. 

Examples of these types of roles are analysts, examiners, lab workers, or other technicians whose job typically supports the work of a uniformed or plainclothes LEO. 

While these roles are not directly considered to be LEOs in a traditional sense, their work is crucial and contributes to the peacekeeping nature of enforcing the law by officers of the law. 

Are Prison Guards LEOs?

This is a tricky one. Although prison guards and wardens do wear a uniform and they are responsible for keeping order and safety for their prisoners, they are generally not considered to be a LEO. 

The reason for this distinction is simply because the guards at a prison are enforcing rules and regulations, not necessarily the law. This is considered to be different than the sworn-in LEOs who are charged with maintaining order and safety within the general public.

Are Military Personnel LEOs?

The short answer is no. Typically, the military is separate from the umbrella of law enforcement officers unless there is a special circumstance in which members of the military are called upon to act as an LEO. 

One reason why you may assume that they are the same thing is that it’s common for members of the military to pursue a career as a LEO after finishing their time with the military. This happens a lot because there are so many intersections in the training and methodology. 

Is The Acronym LEO Only Used By LEOs?

Anyone can use this acronym! It is universally known and accepted, so most people should know what you’re talking about if you use this term conversationally. 

What Does an LEO Do? 

LEOs are responsible for quite simply, keeping the peace, in whatever jurisdiction they are charged with enforcing the law for. They are sworn in as officers of the law and while on duty as an LEO they are responsible for protecting and serving that community.

Around the world, LEOs are looked to as a pillar of safety and protection in their communities. Most of the men and women occupying these positions feel a tremendous calling to do these jobs. 

Is Being An LEO A Good Job?

Yes, being a LEO is a very admirable career choice. It can be difficult to get into as the application and training process is known to be rigorous both physically and mentally, but it is a tremendously rewarding career with many benefits.

LEOs usually stay with the path of law enforcement throughout their entire career. It is common to work up through the ranks within their chosen department or agency over the course of their professional life.