The U.S. police ranking system is normally based on the order of military ranks, according to PoliceOne. Most law enforcement agencies based their ranking structure on these terms and levels.

As police officers work their way up the ranks, they can join specialized units like a SWAT team, canine unit or bomb squad. They may also pursue various managerial roles within the ranking system or a particular title (detectives can become supervisors of other detectives).

The following sections look at the U.S. police ranking system and how it can vary between departments.

Police Ranks in the US

The reference point for police ranks in the U.S. will be the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD). Here is an overview of the ranks in this department.

  • Police Officer: As the most common rank in the department, police officers fulfill a variety of roles to help keep the public safe. They are the backbone of the department.


  • Detective: Detectives assume investigative functions throughout the PPD, with most assigned to one of the six divisions: Southwest, South, Central, East, Northwest and Northeast. They are the only rank without a uniform.


  • Corporal: Corporals are entry-level supervisors. Typically, they supervise a small group of administrative workers in the Operations Room and cell block of a district. They wear blue shirts with two chevrons on the sleeve.


  • Sergeant: As first-line supervisors in a district, unit or detective division, sergeants typically supervise a squad of officers or detectives. They wear white shirts with three chevrons on the sleeve, and drive police vehicles with a letter after the district number (e.g., 1A is a 1st District sergeant’s car).


  • Lieutenant: Lieutenants normally command a platoon of officers and subordinate supervisors. Those who patrol districts are also responsible for a police service area. Their uniform is similar to a sergeant’s uniform, except for the pants not having a blue stripe down the seam. Their rank insignia is one gold bar that is worn on the collar and shoulder tab. Their vehicles are designated with the letters “DC” after their assigned district.


  • Captain: Captains are commanding officers of districts and units through the PPD. Each of the 21 numbered policed districts has a captain in charge. They wear two gold bars on their collars and shoulder. Radio call signs are “CO,” for commanding officer, and the district number.


  • Staff Inspector: Staff inspectors are responsible for large units, as deemed necessary by the police commissioner. There are only two current staff inspectors in the PPD. They wear gold oak-leaf clusters on their uniforms.


  • Chief Inspector: Chief inspectors command a bureau, or a large group of units. The PPD has chiefs in charge of special operations, training and education, as well as several other units. Their rank is designated by a gold eagle.


  • Deputy Commissioner: Deputy commissioners are in charge of large sections of the PPD. There are currently nine, and they wear one to three stars on their uniform.


  • Commissioner: The police commissioner guides the whole PPD, acting as CEO. The commissioner wears four gold stars.

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Police Ranks Variance in the US

U.S. police ranking systems vary from department from department. For instance, other major cities may not abide by the PPD’s ranks.

This may especially be the case at the higher end of the PPD. According to PoliceOne, after the role of captain, the next three ranks are deputy chief, assistant chief and chief of police. This is quite a bit different than the PPD’s ranks of staff inspector, chief inspector and deputy commissioner, which all follow the role of captain.

For a specific example of this trend, the Los Angeles Police Department has the following ranks: police officer, detective, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, commander, deputy chief and chief of police.

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