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Are Probation Officers Peace Officers?

What is a peace officer?
The term peace officer is a broad label that can include many types of law enforcement officers. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a peace officer as, “a civil officer whose duty it is to preserve the public peace.” Traditionally, a peace officer was a regular law enforcement professional, like a sheriff or a police officer. Today, the term can include officers who serve in other roles, such as probation or corrections officers. Each jurisdiction, or state, has defined by law which law enforcement professionals are considered peace officers.

What is a probation officer?
Probation officers supervise and assist individuals who have been convicted of a crime and are serving a term of probation. Individuals serving probation must meet certain conditions to avoid incarceration. Probation officers monitor and counsel probationers to make sure that those conditions are met. Probation officers were traditionally attached to juvenile courts and helped young adults avoid criminal behavior. Today, most adult courts also have probation officers. Probation officers are different from than traditional police officers because they do not become involved in the criminal justice process until after a criminal conviction. A police officer spends most of his or her time trying to prevent a crime from happening or apprehending the perpetrator of a crime. While probation officers monitor individuals to ensure they do not commit another crime, their primary role is to help convicted persons change their lives.

How do I know if a probation officer is a peace officer in my town?
Each state has a definition of a peace officer. Most of the time, that definition will list all of the officers who are considered to be peace officers. If probation officers are included, you can be certain that they are peace officers. Other states will list the functions that a peace officer is expected to perform. In this case, it may be more difficult to tell if a probation officer is considered a peace officer. If the list of functions of a peace officer includes those functions performed by a probation officer, then it is likely that a probation officer is a peace officer.

Why would a probation officer not be a peace officer?
The term peace officer is an older term that was designed to encompass different types of law enforcement officers who had similar powers. A probation or corrections officer has different powers than a traditional police officer. Specifically, probation officers do not have the same broad powers to arrest as a police officer. Therefore, some states chose to exclude probation officers from the statutory definition of a peace officer. However, many states have begun to include probation and corrections officers in the definition of peace officer to help ensure stricter sentences for those who commit a crime against a probation officer.

Each state gets to decide which officers are designated as peace officers. While many definitions may include probation officers, a quick check with the local court, law enforcement agency, or law library is advisable.

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