Common Police Ranks In Order for Most Departments (Ultimate Guide)

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 Brian Humenuk | Author | COPJOT

By Brian Humenuk, MA, COPJOT

Updated on May 19, 2024

3-minute read or less


Understanding the rank structure or hierarchical structure of police organizations is important for appreciating how law enforcement operates.

Getting to know the common rank structure of police agencies is also important for people who might be thinking about a career in law enforcement or are currently going through the process of becoming a law enforcement officer.

Police ranks indicate the authority and responsibilities of officers, shaping the command chain and ensuring an organized approach to maintaining law and order.


When there is a critical incident or major event the rank structure plays a large part in who is in command or is the incident commander. It also establishes the chain of command and how assignments are delegated.

In this article I am going to deep dive into the various ranks in police departments, exploring their roles, insignia, and the significance of their positions.

Each rank carries specific duties and responsibilities, ensuring a clear chain of command.

While the exact titles and insignia may vary between countries and regions in the world, the hierarchical structure typically follows a similar pattern.

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Be sure to read my article "7 Top Reasons to Become a Police Officer (Ultimate Guide)" next.

7 top reasons to be a police officer
Let's dive into the meat and potatoes of this article.

What are the Police Ranks in Order?

The hierarchy within police departments generally follows a structured order. Here are the common ranks in ascending order:

  1. Police Officer / Patrolman / Constable
  2. Corporal
  3. Sergeant
  4. Lieutenant
  5. Captain
  6. Major
  7. Deputy Chief
  8. Assistant Chief
  9. Chief of Police

Police Officer 

A police officer is usually the entry-level rank and the most common type of law enforcement officer. Estimates suggest there are approximately 900,000 sworn law enforcement officers in the U.S. 

Police officers, often referred to as patrolmen or patrol officer, are the entry-level rank in law enforcement because they are responsible for the fundamental, on-the-ground tasks that form the backbone of police work.

These duties include patrolling neighborhoods, responding to emergency calls, enforcing laws, and conducting preliminary investigations.

Their position at the bottom of the rank structure allows them to gain valuable experience and skills essential for advancing to higher ranks.

Typically, police officers report to corporals or sergeants. 

Corporal in Police Rank

Corporal in Police Rank

The two-stripe police rank is that of a Corporal in a police department.

The Corporal is a mid-level supervisory rank that typically serves as a bridge between entry-level officers and higher-ranking sergeants. C

Corporals are often responsible for overseeing the daily activities of a small team of officers, providing guidance, training, and support.

They play a critical role in ensuring that departmental policies and procedures are followed, and they may take on additional responsibilities such as managing specific assignments, conducting preliminary investigations, and assisting in administrative tasks.

Corporals usually wear two chevrons on their uniforms, symbolizing their rank and authority within the department.

These ranks may have different names or additional levels depending on the jurisdiction, but the progression usually maintains a similar structure.

Sergeant in Police Rank

sergeant in police rank

The three-stripe police rank is that of a Sergeant in a police department.

The rank of sergeant is an important position in the police force, often marked by distinctive stripes on the uniform. In many police departments, sergeants wear three chevrons, pointing upwards, on their sleeves. These stripes signify their leadership role and experience.

Sergeants play a vital role in supervising police officers and corporals. They are responsible for training, guiding, and evaluating their subordinates.

Additionally, they often manage critical tasks such as shift assignments and ensure that department policies are followed.

Lieutenant in Police Rank

lieutenant in police rank

The one bar police rank is that of a Lieutenant in a police department.

A lieutenant in a police department is a higher-ranking officer who typically oversees multiple units or divisions within the department, providing leadership and direction to ensure effective operations.

They are responsible for supervising sergeants and officers, coordinating major investigations, managing administrative tasks, and implementing departmental policies and strategies.

Lieutenants play a crucial role in bridging the gap between the command staff and frontline personnel, ensuring that communication and procedures are efficiently executed.

Often, lieutenants handle complex and high-profile cases, represent the department in community engagements, and may act as the officer in charge during major incidents or in the absence of higher-ranking officials.

Captain in Police Rank

captain in police rank

The two bar police rank is that of a Lieutenant in a police department.

A captain in a police department holds a significant leadership role, responsible for managing entire divisions or precincts, such as the detective division, traffic unit, or patrol division.

Captains oversee the implementation of policies, strategic planning, and the efficient operation of their assigned units.

They supervise lieutenants and sergeants, ensuring that all activities align with departmental goals and regulations. Captains often coordinate large-scale operations, handle community relations, and provide high-level support for major investigations.

Their extensive experience and strong leadership skills are crucial for maintaining order, discipline, and effective law enforcement within the department.

Chief of Police in Rank

The chief of police is the department's highest-ranking officer. The chief of police manages the police department and is responsible for maintaining efficient operations, including training, budgeting, hiring, management, and leadership.

The Chief of Police maintains overall responsibility for the police department and delegates work to a Deputy Chief, Captain or Lieutenant depending on the size of the agency.

What are the Badges of Police Rank?

Police badges are more than just identification; they symbolize the rank and authority of the officer. Each rank has a specific badge or insignia that distinguishes it from others. These badges can include stars, bars, and other symbols to indicate the officer's position within the hierarchy.

For example, a police chief might have a badge with multiple stars, while a captain could have two bars.

These badges are worn on the uniform, often on the shoulders or chest, making it easy to identify the rank of the officer at a glance.

Summarizing the various police officer ranks, we see a structured and hierarchical system designed to maintain order and discipline within the force.

The ranks in police lowest to highest has its specific duties and responsibilities, contributing to the overall effectiveness of the police department.

  1. Police Officer / Patrolman / Constable
  2. Corporal
  3. Sergeant
  4. Lieutenant
  5. Captain
  6. Major
  7. Deputy Chief
  8. Assistant Chief
  9. Chief of Police

    State Police Rank Structure

    State police rank structure is designed to provide clear leadership and organization across statewide law enforcement agencies.

    Typically starting with troopers, who are the front-line officers, the ranks progress to senior troopers, corporals, and sergeants who take on supervisory roles. Lieutenants and captains oversee larger units or divisions, managing personnel and operations.

    Higher ranks such as majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels (or superintendents) hold executive responsibilities, ensuring strategic planning, coordination, and implementation of state-level law enforcement policies and initiatives.

    This hierarchical structure ensures efficient command, control, and effective law enforcement across the entire state.

    State police agencies often have a similar hierarchical structure to local police departments but may include additional ranks and specialized positions. The structure typically includes:

    1. Trooper
    2. Senior Trooper
    3. Corporal
    4. Sergeant
    5. Lieutenant
    6. Captain
    7. Major
    8. Lieutenant Colonel
    9. Colonel/Superintendent

    State police are responsible for statewide law enforcement, including highway patrol and support for local police departments in smaller communities without local police and handle larger investigations.

    Sheriff's Department Rank Structure

    The ranks in a sheriff's office are structured to maintain order and provide clear leadership within the county's law enforcement framework.

    The ranks progress to senior deputies and sergeants who supervise and manage day-to-day operations, starting with deputy sheriffs, who perform general law enforcement duties.

    Lieutenants oversee larger teams and coordinate specific areas such as investigations or patrols.

    Captains and Majors hold higher administrative and operational responsibilities, managing entire divisions or precincts.

    The undersheriff acts as the second-in-command, assisting the sheriff with executive duties.

    The sheriff, an elected official, leads the department, overseeing all county law enforcement activities, including jail operations, court security, and civil process services.

    Sheriff's departments also follow a hierarchical structure, which can differ slightly from municipal police forces. Common ranks in a sheriff's department include:

    1. Deputy Sheriff
    2. Senior Deputy
    3. Sergeant
    4. Lieutenant
    5. Captain
    6. Major
    7. Undersheriff
    8. Sheriff

    The sheriff, an elected official, leads the department and oversees law enforcement in the county, including jail operations and civil process services.

    About the Author

    Brian Humenuk isn't just an entrepreneur in eCommerce, he is also an informed leader whose experience provides followers and visitors with a look into current and past police issues making headlines in the United States.

    Brian has earned three degrees in Criminal Justice with the last, a Masters of Science in Criminal Justice Administration.

    Brian extends his training, education, and experience to the officers just now getting into the field so that they may become more informed police officers and stay clear of police misconduct and corruption. 

    You can find out more about Brian and the COPJOT story on the ABOUT US page.

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    COPJOT is supported by its audience. If you make a purchase through links on this site I may earn a small affiliate commission. Enough to buy myself a small coffee and I want to thank you in advance. 

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