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DSST Introduction to Law Enforcement Study Guide

Updated: Feb 14

DSST Introduction to Law Enforcement Exam Outline

Are you considering taking the DSST Introduction to Law Enforcement exam?

If so, you're likely wondering what to expect on the test.

Our study guide will outline the test content, and our free practice exam will give you a sneak peek at some questions you might see on your test.

Read on for helpful information.

Whether you're just starting to study for the test or are almost ready to take it, we're here to help!


Table of Contents


1. History of Law Enforcement

Police commissioner in the 60's shaking hands wit officers.
History of Law Enforcement (7% - 9%)

Pre-Colonial and Colonial Heritage

Policing in the U.S. has its roots in English law enforcement practices, which were adapted to the American colonies.

For example, early policing in the American colonies relied heavily on informal watch systems and constables appointed by local leaders.


The 19th and 20th Centuries

The development of formal police departments in the 19th century was a response to the challenges of urbanization and industrialization.

For instance, establishing the New York City Police Department in 1845 marked a significant shift towards professional policing in the United States.


Contemporary Policing (21st Century):

Modern policing in the 21st century encompasses a variety of approaches, including community policing, predictive policing, and the use of technology such as body cameras and data analysis tools.

Many police departments now use data-driven strategies to deploy resources more effectively and reduce crime rates.


Contributions of Theorists and Practitioners

The contributions of various theorists and practitioners have shaped the field of policing.

For instance, the "broken windows" theory, introduced by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in 1982, has significantly impacted policing strategies, emphasizing the importance of addressing minor disorders to prevent a more severe crime.


DSST Introduction to Law Enforcement Trivia Question # 139


2. Overview of the United States Criminal Justice System and Process

Police officers posing for a photo.
Overview of United States Criminal Justice System and Process (21% - 23%)

Role of Police

The primary role of the police is to maintain order and enforce the law.

They respond to emergencies, investigate crimes, and ensure public safety.

Police officers patrol neighborhoods to deter criminal activity and respond to calls for assistance.


Role of Prosecutors

Prosecutors, or district or state attorneys, represent the government in criminal cases.

They review evidence, decide whether to file charges and prosecute cases in court.

Prosecutors present evidence and argue for the conviction of defendants in criminal trials.


Role of Defense

Defense attorneys represent individuals accused of crimes.

They advocate for their clients' interests, protect their rights, and challenge the prosecution's case.

For example, defense attorneys cross-examine witnesses and present evidence to support their clients' innocence.


Role of Court

Courts are responsible for interpreting and applying the law.

Judges oversee court proceedings, ensure legal procedures are followed, and make decisions based on the law and evidence presented.

Judges preside over trials, rule on legal motions, and sentence convicted offenders.


Role of Corrections

Corrections refers to the supervision and rehabilitation of convicted offenders.

Correctional officers oversee inmates in jails and prisons, ensuring safety and security.

Probation and parole officers supervise offenders in the community, helping them reintegrate into society.


Crime Measurement

Crime measurement refers to how society views and interprets crime and the systems developed to record and track criminal activity.

It encompasses various methods and tools for quantifying and analyzing crime rates, trends, and patterns.

For example, crime measurement involves collecting data on reported crimes, arrests, and convictions in a jurisdiction.

Policymakers, law enforcement agencies, and researchers can develop effective strategies to prevent and address criminal behavior by understanding crime measurement.


3. Law Enforcement Systems in the United States

Police woman with two children.
Law Enforcement Systems in the United States (14% – 16%)


Federal law enforcement agencies in the United States include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and others.

These agencies operate at the national level and enforce federal laws. For example, the FBI investigates and enforces federal laws related to national security, organized crime, and cybercrime.



Local law enforcement agencies are the most numerous in the United States and employ the most significant number of sworn officers.

These agencies operate at the city or county level and are responsible for enforcing local and state laws.

For example, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) is a local law enforcement agency responsible for policing the city of New York and enforcing New York state laws.


Special District Police Agencies

Special district police agencies are separate local government agencies formed to provide specific services within a defined geographic area.

These agencies may include transit police, airport police, or park police, among others, and are responsible for enforcing laws and regulations within their jurisdiction.

For example, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Police Department in New York City is responsible for policing the city's public transportation system, including buses and subways.


DSST Introduction to Law Enforcement Trivia Question # 140


4. Law Enforcement Organization, Management, and Issues

Police man playing basketball with boy.
Law Enforcement Organization, Management, and Issues (39% - 41%)


This involves law enforcement officers' daily tasks and activities to maintain public safety and enforce laws.

For example, patrolling neighborhoods, responding to emergency calls, and conducting investigations are all part of law enforcement operations.


Infrastructure and Hierarchy

The organizational structure and chain of command within a law enforcement agency, including line officers, supervisors, and administrative staff.

This hierarchy ensures clear communication and effective management of resources.


Community Relations and Policing

The relationship between law enforcement agencies and their communities emphasizes the importance of trust and cooperation.

Community policing strategies, such as community outreach programs and neighborhood watch initiatives, aim to strengthen these relationships.


Police Issues

Challenges faced by law enforcement in contemporary society, such as crime rates, resource allocation, and public perception.

Addressing these issues requires collaboration between law enforcement agencies, government officials, and community stakeholders.


Image, Professionalism, and Subculture

The public perception of law enforcement, the standards of professionalism within the field, and the unique culture within police departments.

Maintaining a positive image and upholding professional standards are essential for building trust with the community.


Police Ethics and Discretion

The ethical standards that guide law enforcement officers' decision-making and the use of discretion in enforcing laws.

Upholding ethical principles, such as honesty, integrity, and respect, is fundamental to maintaining public trust.


Future Policing and Technology

How law enforcement is evolving to adapt to technological advancements and changing societal needs.

This includes using body cameras, predictive policing algorithms, and data analytics to improve efficiency and effectiveness.


Law Enforcement/Public Focus and Priorities

The alignment of law enforcement priorities with public safety concerns and community needs.

Ensuring that law enforcement agencies address their communities' most pressing issues is crucial for maintaining public trust and safety.


Women and Other Minorities in Policing

The importance of diversity and inclusion in law enforcement, including efforts to recruit and retain individuals from diverse backgrounds.

Increasing diversity within law enforcement agencies can improve community relations and enhance the effectiveness of policing strategies.


DSST Introduction to Law Enforcement Trivia Question # 282


5. Criminal and Constitutional Law and Precedents

Police officers posing with kids.
Criminal and Constitutional Law and Precedents (10%-15%)

The Constitution and Bill of Rights

These documents establish the foundational laws that govern law enforcement actions, ensuring that they uphold citizens' rights and freedoms.

For example, the Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures, requiring law enforcement to obtain warrants based on probable cause.


Supreme Court Case Law

The Supreme Court's precedent guides law enforcement practices and decisions, influencing future legal interpretations and actions.

For instance, in Miranda v. Arizona, the Court established the requirement for police to inform suspects of their rights before custodial interrogation.


Federal and Local Laws and Ordinances

Understanding the distinction between federal and local jurisdiction is crucial for law enforcement agencies to operate within the appropriate legal framework.

For example, federal laws, such as the Controlled Substances Act, regulate drug enforcement nationally, while local ordinances may address specific community concerns, such as noise violations or zoning regulations.


6. Conclusion

Police squad on the street.

 DSST Introduction to Law Enforcement

The DSST Introduction to Law Enforcement exam outlines the United States criminal justice system and process.

This exam covers topics including the role of police, the role of the prosecutor, the history of law enforcement, and contemporary policing.

Our preparation course has everything you need if you want to learn more about these topics or study for the DSST Introduction to Law Enforcement Exam.

Try a free Introduction to Law Enforcement practice test and get a preview of what to expect on test day.

Sign up today and get started on your journey to success!


7. Student Resources


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