Wisconsin law enforcement is everywhere, how many agencies operate where you live?

By: - November 20, 2020 6:00 am
Wisconsin State Capitol Police car in front of Wisconsin Capitol. (Photo: WI Department of Administration)

Wisconsin State Capitol Police car in front of Wisconsin Capitol. (Photo: WI Department of Administration)

People are familiar with their local police department but Wisconsinites live under the jurisdiction of far more law enforcement agencies than just the municipal police. 

In total, there are nearly 600 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies operating in Wisconsin. These agencies vary in size from tiny village departments to the FBI. 

The role of the police in our society has been under a microscope since the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department in May. Local Policing is an ongoing series analyzing the culture, tactics and actions of departments big and small across Wisconsin. If you have a story to share about your local police, reach out to reporters Isiah Holmes and Henry Redman at [email protected] and [email protected].

Even in a rural area, the sheer volume of police power a person lives under is staggering. Not everyone lives in a place with a municipal police department, in which case the county sheriff has jurisdiction. State agencies such as the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation and State Patrol also have police power. Then there is the cacophony of federal agency acronyms. 

Just in the City of Madison there are 15 law enforcement agencies operating. There’s the Madison Police Department, Dane County Sheriff’s Office, State Capitol Police, UW-Madison Police, VA hospital Police, FBI, DEA, ATF, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals, IRS investigators, Wisconsin DNR law enforcement, Wisconsin DOR investigators, State Patrol and Wisconsin DOJ agents.

That list does not include the police departments in nearby Shorewood Hills or the Town of Madison, or the suburban police departments in places such as Monona, Fitchburg, Sun Prairie and Middleton. 

Within the city limits of Milwaukee, you could find yourself in the jurisdiction of even more agents. The Marquette University Police Department, Milwaukee School of Engineering Public Safety Department, UW-Milwaukee Police, Milwaukee Police Department, Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office and the  Milwaukee Housing Authority Public Safety Department all operate in the city. Working out of Milwaukee are also several federal agencies, including offices for the Department of Homeland Security, DEA and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

Neighboring departments and agencies also have mutual aid agreements in which officers from nearby municipalities can come assist if needed. In Milwaukee this means the Wauwatosa Police Department, West Allis Police Department or Cudahy Police Department are never very far. 

Federal agencies have jurisdiction over the entire state and state agencies over most of it — tribal lands are under the jurisdiction of the FBI and not state agencies, though most tribes have their own police departments. 

The FBI has seven Wisconsin field offices in Eau Claire, Green Bay, Kenosha, La Crosse, Madison, Milwaukee and Wausau. 

The map of Wisconsin law enforcement agencies includes small departments such as the Lac la Belle Police Department as well as large departments in Milwaukee and all the federal and state agencies. 

Each agency is mapped where its office is located, according to a Wisconsin DOJ database, and placement does not represent each department’s jurisdiction. The Dane County Sheriff’s office is mapped to its office near the state Capitol but covers the whole county. The FBI is mapped to all seven field offices but covers the whole state. 

Some agencies are also members of joint task forces. The location of these are mapped as well but include combined officers and resources from other departments. 

Zoom in on the map to see all the law enforcement agencies operating where you live.

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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.