Can You Answer These Random Questions About Law Enforcement?


By: Torrance Grey

6 Min Quiz

Image: Darrin Klimek / DigitalVision / Getty Images

About This Quiz

The world of law enforcement encompasses a lot more than just "cops on the beat." In the United States alone, there's a complex array of agencies and bureaus, from the federal level down to the watchmen of unincorporated rural townships. Some agencies keep the peace, like uniformed police officers and sheriff's deputies. Others, like plainclothes detectives and FBI agents, have investigative roles. And in many agencies, especially smaller ones, there's a mix. 

It isn't just cities, counties and states -- that is, official government jurisdictions -- that have law enforcement agencies. A surprising number of airports, subway systems, universities, parks, national lands, waterways and more have their own -- with sworn officers, not civilian security guards. These jurisdictions often overlap, requiring cooperation among agencies. In cop shows and crime novels, of course, there's also more infighting and credit-stealing than cooperation!

How much do you know about the workings of law enforcement? We've crafted a quiz to help you find out. Some questions are about legal rights and limitations; others are about service weapons, and some are about the history of law enforcement. When you're finished, you might have learned a thing or two -- including that some of your knowledge base was actually myths perpetuated by TV and the movies! Ready to separate fact from fiction? Let's go!

FBI stands for the Federal Bureau of ______?

Of course, it's "Investigation." The name indicates that the job of an FBI agent involves a lot of questioning, paper-trail-following, and interviewing. FBI agents aren't usually on the front lines of public safety (i.e, in skirmish lines during riots, etc).


Something that clearly indicates you could not have committed a particular crime is called what?

We're not sure how often police or prosecutors actually refer to "alibis," but it's certainly a popular term in crime fiction, TV and movies. The late Sue Grafton named her debut crime novel "A is for Alibi."


What is the opposite of a felony?

Generally, crimes are divided into felonies and misdemeanors. A crime like burglary might qualify as either, depending on the monetary value of the items taken.


A person too young to be legally responsible for their actions is called what?

If the word "emancipant" caught your eye, that one *is* related to being a minor. That is, "emancipation" is a legal process wherein someone younger than 18 -- but usually 15 or older -- can sue to become a legal adult, if they can show the ability to support themselves financially and otherwise.


What is the name for the rights read to a person at time of arrest?

The famous warning beginning "You have the right to remain silent" is named for Ernesto Miranda. In Miranda v. Arizona, the suspect was not informed of his right to an attorney, and the right to stay silent without one. As a result, his confession was rendered inadmissible.


Larceny is the legal term for which of these?

"Larceny" is a broad term for stealing. You'll most often hear it in legal settings, not in everyday speech.


True or false: It is common procedure to draw a chalk outline around a dead body.

This was popularized by television and the movies, to the point that some novice officers actually do it, but it's not good procedure. Photographs and sketching are used to render a crime scene, and a uniformed officer blundering into the middle of a crime scene to make a chalk outline is actually considered to be "contaminating" it.


The "ten-code" has to do with how law-enforcement officers use what?

The "ten-code" is the long list of numerical codes officers use to talk "among themselves" on the radio. A commonly used one is "10-9," meaning "Say again" or "Please repeat."


What kind of lawyers do police officers work closely with?

Law enforcement officers and prosecutors tend to have a close working relationship. Prosecutors consult with officers while preparing a case for trial, prep those officers for their testimony, and generally rely on their testimony.


In the abbreviations "LKA" and "NKA," what does the "A" stand for?

These abbreviations means "Last Known Address" and "No Known Address." They're commonly applied to low-level, frequent offenders.


What is the official record of arrests kept at a police station informally called?

You might remember Jay Leno's "Police Blotter" segment on "The Tonight Show." Like his "Headlines," the items were drawn from real police blotters. Our favorite: A farmer called police to say that five pounds of bacon had been stolen from his refrigerator in the night. Later, the farmer's wife contacted police to admit she'd gotten up in the middle of the night and eaten it all. (Holy cow, her arteries!)


Who issues a search warrant?

Judges must sign off on warrants, and it's usually prosecutors who ask judges to grant them. It doesn't matter how high-ranking a police or sheriff's officer is -- they can't issue warrants.


Which of these is the legal term for deliberate, unlawful fire-setting?

To qualify as arson, the fire-setting must be deliberate and with malicious intent. If you start a fire for personal or recreational purposes that gets out of hand and destroys property, you could be charged with civil infractions and fined, but this doesn't rise to the level of arson.


What, generally, is the difference between burglary and robbery?

Both of these are kinds of theft. Robbery implies the use of force, weapons or fear; burglary implies a break-in or stealth.


What makes something a federal crime?

A federal crime is simply one that is listed in the United States Code. Beyond that, what makes federal crimes "federal" is complicated -- they are as diverse as mail fraud, skyjacking, child pornography and much more.


In early U.S. history, what were "Pinkertons"?

The Allan Pinkerton Agency was so big in 19th-century America that "Pinkerton" was a casual term for P.I., and many middle-class or wealthy people turned to them in time of trouble rather than the police. As law-enforcement agencies adopted stricter professional standards and better training for officers, the influence of the Pinkerton Agency waned.


Which U.S. state has officers called the "Rangers"?

The Texas Rangers have an investigative role now, but they are still associated in the popular imagination with Texas's lawless, pre-statehood days. Writers such as James Lee Burke and Larry McMurtry have created memorable Ranger or ex-Ranger characters.


Which of these agencies are not commonly made up of sworn officers?

If you get in trouble with a campus or airport police officer, we suggest treating them the same way you would a metro police officer. A statement to the effect of "You're just a glorified security guard!" is an excellent way to make your day a whole lot more complicated.


What events prompted the passage of the Patriot Act?

Of course, it was 9/11. The Patriot Act is formally styled the USA PATRIOT act, meaning "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism." (How long did someone chew on the end of a pencil to make *that* work?)


The act of leading an arrested and handcuffed suspect up the steps to the courthouse, usually in front of press cameras, is called what?

The "perp walk" is a way to show off a high-profile arrest. Civil-liberties advocates object to it as a public humiliation, but it has been defended when wealthy, well-connected suspects are "perp-walked," as a way of showing that no one is above the law.


Who is credited with modernizing and expanding the FBI in the 20th century?

Hoover brought the FBI into the 20th century, and expanded its powers. However, he's also been criticized for abuses of power, such as assembling dossiers of secret information on public figures, especially leftists and activists, potentially for use in extortion.


When did fingerprinting begin to be used for identification purposes?

Though a few apocryphal stories exist about fingerprints being used as personal seals before the 19th century, it wasn't until the mid-19th century that it really became a science. The history of fingerprints is full of colorful characters and stories; whole books have been written about it.


When did DNA analysis become part of forensic science?

Our understanding of DNA is very much a 20th-century phenomenon, with Watson and Crick making their "double helix" breakthrough in the 1950s. It was three decades later, in the mid-'80s, that DNA began to be used in solving crimes.


The headquarters of London's city police department is named for what country?

London's main police department is called "Scotland Yard." It's actually named for the street that its rear entrance opened out onto, which was called Great Scotland Yard.


Which of these handguns might a city police officer or sheriff's deputy carry?

Glock, Sig Sauer and Smith & Wesson are all common handguns in American law enforcement. The Derringer, in contrast, was the classic "lady's weapon" of the Old West -- very small, short-barreled and concealable.


What office oversees all federal law-enforcement agencies?

The keyword "department" might have been a tip-off here. The Justice Department isn't a law-enforcement agency per se, like the other three. It's a part of the federal government that oversees the FBI, DEA, U.S. Marshals, the BATF and more.


Quantico, where the FBI Academy is located, is a base serving which branch of the military?

The FBI Academy is commonly called "Quantico," but that's the name of the Marine base where it's located. The FBI has no greater connection to the Marines than to any other U.S. military branch -- it seems the location of the FBI Academy was just a matter of where space for training could be found.


Circumstances that lessen the seriousness of a crime are called "______ circumstances."

If somebody ran onto the grounds of a country club, after hours, and jumped into the swimming pool, that'd be trespassing. But if he or she was suffering from a hallucination of being on fire, that would be a mitigating circumstance.


Is "Observe and Report" a real law-enforcement practice?

OK, it *was* the name of a 2009 comedy with Anna Faris. But "Observe and Report" is an actual police practice, which stops short of arresting or even making contact with a suspect.


If you're an officer who rarely leaves the station, you might earn what nickname?

While "desk jockey" might also be suitable, police have long used "house mouse." This term also describes a detective on call for weekend duty, because they need to stay at home, ready to respond, instead of going out partying.


How many states have a "state bureau of investigation"?

The name varies a bit, but all states have a version of the FBI. And like the national bureau, an SBI's duties are mostly investigative, rather than functioning as peacekeepers.


True or false: Officers can go through your outside trash can, without your permission, for evidence of a crime.

The Supreme Court has ruled there's no expectation of privacy for an outdoor trash can. In fact, law enforcement personnel have no particular privilege here -- anyone can take something from your outdoor trash can (although if it's not at the curb, but on your grounds, a trespassing charge might stick).


For how many hours, legally, can detectives interrogate a suspect?

In court, a defense attorney might try to challenge a client's confession on the grounds that he or she was kept in interrogation room so long it was coercive. However, there's no controlling legal standard -- and if a suspect simply refuses to answer questions, and sticks to that resolve, an interrogation will come to an end pretty quickly.


Which of these is an exception to the need for a search warrant?

All of the circumstances listed give officers reason to search without a warrant. If drugs are clearly visible through a car window, if fire threatens a suspect's property, if the home's or car's owner has been arrested ... these are all examples. Also, if a suspect consents, officers are allowed to conduct a search.


Which U.S. president was once the police commissioner of New York City?

Roosevelt had a storied history as an outdoorsman, Rough Rider, police commissioner, and finally, U.S. president. A few historical mystery novelists have made Commissioner Roosevelt a character in their books.


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