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Special Police Usually Describes a Police Force or Unit within a Police Force

Special police usually describes a police force or unit within a police force whose duties and responsibilities are significantly different from other forces in the same country or from other police in the same force, although there is no consistent international definition. A special constable, in most cases, is not a member of a special police force (SPF); in countries in the Commonwealth of Nations and often elsewhere, a special constable is a voluntary or part-time member of a national or local police force or a person involved in law enforcement who is not a police officer but has some of the powers of a police officer.

In United States terminology, special police can mean:

  • Auxiliary police, members of volunteer, unpaid or paid, part-time civilian police, security officer units, interns;

  • Company police;

  • Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT);

  • Security police; or

  • Special Law Enforcement Officers/ Special Jurisdiction Law Enforcement – used in New Jersey to supplement full-time police officers;

The term can also refer to limited police power granted in some jurisdictions to lifeguards, SPCA personnel, teachers, and other public sector employees which is incidental to their main responsibilities. Special Police Officers (or SPOs) can be employed to protect large campuses such as theme parks, hospital centers, and commerce centers.

Some states, such as Maryland, New York, and the District of Columbia, grant full State Police/peace officer authority to SPOs for use in whatever area they are employed to protect. They can make traffic stops in their jurisdiction if they have had accredited training. They are also permitted to conduct traffic control and investigations pertaining to the area protected by them, while a majority of SPOs are armed with a firearm, some states permit the age for an SPO to be 18, while still they can not carry a sidearm. Special police can make a criminal arrest and run blue strobe lights on their vehicle.


The San Francisco Patrol Special Police is a neighborhood police force authorized in the City Charter, with officers appointed and regulated by the Police Commission after an initial security review by the San Francisco Police Department. Hourly rates for service are principally paid by private clients, with some cost to the City for general program administration concerning standards of professional performance, but not concerning day-to-day operations. Thus, the nature of this special police force is both quasi-private and quasi-public. The force has been in operation in the United States, city of San Francisco for over 162 years. By current City Code the force provides patrols on the streets of San Francisco as well as at fixed locations, and also provides a range of other safety services as requested by private clients.


In Kentucky, special police officers are Special Law Enforcement Officers (SLEO). They are sworn peace officers with limited jurisdiction. They have full legal police powers; explicitly including arrest authority, the ability to carry a weapon, and use emergency vehicles. However, their jurisdiction is specifically limited to public property that they have been hired to protect. While Kentucky law allows both the State and local governments to use SLEO's, most are used by the Kentucky State Police in the Facilities Security Branch.


In Massachusetts, ‘special police’ usually refers to Special State Police Officers (SSPOs) whom are law enforcement officers employed by a college, university, or hospital police force. SSPOs must attend and graduate either the 16-week SSPO Academy hosted by the Massachusetts State Police (MSP) in New Braintree, MA, or any of the 20-week Recruit Officer Courses (the same academies attended by municipal LEOs across the commonwealth) approved by the Municipal Police Training Council (MPTC). Prospective SSPOs may have the training requirement waived by the Massachusetts State Police if they have completed an MPTC-approved Reserve/Intermittent Academy, have worked at least 2,000 hours as a part-time LEO, and have an associate’s degree or higher in criminal justice; SSPO candidates whom have a significant full-time LE work history and have previously completed any LE academy may also apply for a training waiver from the MSP. SSPOs typically have the same police powers as ‘regular’ police officers within the commonwealth, although they may only exercise it pursuant to their duties and usually only while on their employer’s property.

New Jersey

In New Jersey, Special Law Enforcement Officers (SLEOs) are used to supplement full-time police officers. There are currently three classes of special law enforcement officers.

Class I SLEOs are allowed to conduct routine traffic detail, spectator control, and similar duties, but are not authorized to carry a firearm while on duty.

Class II SLEOs are permanent, regularly appointed full-time police officers. They are authorized to carry a firearm.

Class III SLEOs are retired fully trained police officers who are under the age of 65 years old. They serve on a part-time basis and authorized to provide security while on school or college premises during hours when the school or college is normally in session or when occupied by students, teachers, or professors. These Officers do not replace regular law enforcement officers or school resource officers currently employed in schools. By law, all armed SLEOs must return their firearm to the station house unless the firearm is owned by the SLEO in compliance with unit policy on personally owned firearms. All Class II and Class III SLEOs are fully trained and certified police officers in the State of New Jersey. Class I SLEOs go through different certifications, but still have police officer status. Class Two Officers in Newark carry weapons off duty.

New Orleans Louisiana

The Superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department in accordance with New Orleans Home Rule Charter section 4-502 (2) (a) (b) and New Orleans Municipal Code 17271 MCS 90-86, may deputize private Security Guards, within the city limits, with limited Police Power as New Orleans Police Special Officers. Louisiana R.S. 40:1379.1 (b) states the Special Officer, when performing those tasks requiring a Special Officer's commission, shall have the same powers and duties as a Peace Officer, however, that when not performing these tasks directly related to the special officer's commission, he shall be regarded as a private citizen and his commission shall not be in effect. Special Officers may make arrest for felony or misdemeanor offenses on the property or area they are to protect, patrol, or in relation to their direct assignment. However, Special Officers still may make an arrest, as a private person, for a felony, whether in or out of his presence, under Louisiana Law CCRP Art.214 Arrest by private person; when lawful.

North Carolina

In North Carolina, some private companies have their own special police forces. These include hospitals, hotels, race tracks, and shopping malls and are more properly referred to as "Company Police". There are also companies that offer contract special police services for a fee to anyone who has property they wish to protect. In the state of North Carolina, special police differ greatly from security companies. North Carolina Special police officers have full arrest powers on any property they are hired to protect within the state as granted by the North Carolina Attorney General. Special police officers must also attend and pass the Basic Law Enforcement Training program like all other police officers. Security officers do not have arrest powers as their job is to mainly observe and report.

Smithsonian Museum Special Police in NY, Virginia, & DC

Main article: Smithsonian Police

The Smithsonian museum utilizes federal employees designated as "special police" under the United States Code (Title 10, Chapter 63, §6306). These officers patrol Smithsonian property in New York, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Smithsonian Special Police Officers carry firearms, mace and handcuffs and have arrest authority on federal Smithsonian property.


The Texas Special Police were formed along with the Texas State Police during the administration of Texas Governor Edmund J. Davis on July 22, 1870, to combat crime statewide in Texas. There were thirty special policemen assigned as auxiliary officers throughout the state. On April 22, 1873, the law authorizing the state police was repealed by the newly-elected Democratic-controlled state legislature.

Texas state law authorizes mayors to appoint special police officers to enforce the municipality's laws, avert danger, or protect life or property; because of riot, outbreak, calamity, or public disturbance; or because of threat of serious violation of law or order, of outbreak, or of other danger to the municipality or its inhabitants. (§ 341.011. SPECIAL POLICE FORCE IN TYPE A GENERAL-LAW).


Virginia possesses special police officers employed, typically, in the private police field. These officers are regulated by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services and are termed special conservators of the peace (SCOP). These officers must meet specific training requirements and be sworn in by the district court judge or magistrate in the area where they request a commission. These officers, when so sworn and certified, are permitted to utilize the term 'police' (this was removed by the state legislature in 2018 and they may no longer use the term) and are permitted to operate emergency vehicles equipped with red flashing/strobing lights (municipal law enforcement operates either blue or combinations of blue and red).

This class of officers should not be confused with armed security officers who in Virginia possess arrest authority on the property they are employed to protect. Armed security officers do not have fresh pursuit authority (off of their grounds/property) whereas SCOP officers do.

Washington, D.C.

Washington utilizes special police in both the public and private security sectors. Most work for private security companies although many security officers in the Washington, D.C., area also have special police status. Special police are required to be licensed and are appointed by the Mayor.

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