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Substantive Law vs. Procedural Law

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Substantive law is the constitutional law, in black and white, that presides over the rights and responsibilities of individuals and collective bodies that are put through it. It can be codified in legislated laws, or ratified through the initiative procedure by creating, defining and regulating rights. Such laws include all categories of public and private laws, such as laws of contracts, real property laws, and criminal laws.

            Substantive law describes the legal association of people among other people, or among them and the state. In the criminal law, it describes crimes and sentences; in the civil law, it describes the civil rights and obligations. It also describes how the information about the case will be dealt, and how the crime should be inflicted upon. Fundamentally, substantive law takes care of the essential substance of the matter under law. Criminal law, for example, lists specific behaviors that are considered illegal, and then lists elements that must be verified to convict the defendant of the crime.

            On the other hand, procedural law consists of the set of conventions by which a court hears and decides what occurs in civil or criminal proceedings. These conventions are designed to guarantee a fair and dependable treatment of due process or basic justice to all cases presented before a court. Procedural law takes care of the methods and ways by which substantive law is completed and overseen, providing the machinery for imposing the rights and duties stated by the substantive laws. Such laws include the allowable time for one party to sue the other, and the regulations of law governing the progression of the lawsuit.

            Essentially, procedural law presents the process that the case will undergo, whether it goes to the proceedings or not. It also administers the process for establishing the rights of the two opposing parties, and tests the validity of the tangible claims and defenses referred to by the substantive laws. In criminal procedural law, for example, the rights of the defendant are protected by the 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Police Structures Around the World

            In most police structures, the force is divided into two: preventive or uniformed police and detectives. Preventive police assigns the police that patrol and act in response to emergencies and other occurrences, while detectives are in charge of investigations and federal work. Other structures may include auxiliary units, specialized units, (e.g. U.S. SWAT and London CO19), and military police services. Organization-wise, the structure can be vertical or horizontal. In vertical structures, the police force is headed by a single chief of police and each level of the hierarchy is defined by the span of jurisdiction. Contrary, in horizontal structures, the police force is divided into regional or municipal and each division is headed by its own chief of police, with no single official governing the entire force.

The U.S. Police Structure

            There are over 18,000 discrete police agencies in the U.S. Usually, a police force, which handles nearly all practical policing, is directed by a local municipal government, for instance a city or a town. Each local police station is mandated by a Chief of Police, who reports to and is usually appointed by a police supervision commission, for large cities, or to a city commission, for small cities. These city police offices may have distinct departments for traffic, railroad, beach, harbor, fire, schools, wildlife, alcoholic beverage control, and even waste management. Funds to support these police forces are raised locally and the combined raise amount to around 51 billion dollars every year.

            In areas that do not have a local police department – typically rural areas called counties – policing is handled by a Sheriff, who is an elected officer. A sheriff is provided with an office, and is naturally responsible for supervising the county jail.

            There are other police agencies at all levels of the government, but these have specific functions, such as patrolling highways (e.g. California Highway Patrol), controlling drug trafficking, gang wars, or terrorist attacks, and investigating federal crimes (e.g. FBI), which are beyond the state crimes capacity of the local police.

            In addition to these dedicated police forces, some towns have auxiliary police officers who are part-time volunteers. The rationale for these is to respond to increasing crime by deploying more cops on the streets.

Canada Police Structure vs. U.S. Police Structure

            The Canadian national police service is named Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), a bureau of the Ministry of Public Safety. It is distinctive in the world since it is a national, regional and municipal policing body. This general structure is different from the U.S. police, which have no centralized command over its police agencies. RCMP provides service to all of Canada, and oversees over 190 municipalities in eight provinces.

            According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act, the RCMP is to be headed by a Commissioner, who controls and manages the police force and all subjects associated therewith, and reports directly to the Minister of Public Safety. In contrast again, the U.S. police does not have a single chief of police for the whole nation; it has plenty of it, each one assigned to a police station. Moreover, U.S. chiefs of police do not report to a single commission; instead, they report to their respective local police supervision commission.

            However, over a decade ago, RCMP started progressing in the direction of a regional organization. Deputy Commissioners were instituted in four key regions: Atlantic, Central, Northwestern and Pacific. This modification gives way to a better contribution of those in the lower part of the organization tree in the decision-making process, and devote more assets into leading edge services. With this, we can think of RCMP as semi-U.S. Maybe in the future Canada would eventually adopt the U.S. police micro-management structure.

            There are other Deputy Commissioners responsible of the following specific tasks: Corporate Management and Comptrollership, Federal Services, National Police Services, and Operations and Integration. These can be likened to the distinct departments of the U.S. city police offices. These Canadian commissions, however, are intended to augment the requisites of the police force, unlike the U.S. departments, which also cater to other community necessities.

Mexico Police Structure vs. U.S. Police Structure

            The Mexican police force consists of the general division: the preventive police, known as the Policia Federal Preventiva (PFP) and the investigative police, known as the Agencia Federal de Investigaciones (AFI). The PFP is responsible for securing public safety and controlling order; essentially, they “prevent” crimes from taking place, as their name states. Unlike the U.S. police, which are organized geographically, the PFP is organized into subdivisions, namely, Federal District, Metropolitan Police (Public Transit, Tourist, Grenadiers, Feminine and Emergency Rescue Squad), Helicopter Squadron (Helicopter, Motorcycle, Terrorism and Drugs), Roadway Security, and Internal Affairs.

The AFI (commonly known as judiciales), on the other hand, are responsible for serving warrants of arrest and reports directly to the Public Ministry, which houses the public prosecutor’s office. It is equivalent to the FBI of the U.S. police. Each of Mexico’s 31 states has a State Judicial Police, which is managed by the state’s Attorney General.

Moreover, Mexico also has rural areas, called municipios, similar to the counties of the U.S., and policing in these areas are handled by a small police force, similar to the U.S. sheriffs. It also has auxiliary or voluntary units, whose number is more than the number of full-time officers.

France Police Structure vs. U.S. Police Structure

            The French police force is divided into three: the police nationale, the gendarmerie and the Compagnie Republicaine de la Securite (CRS). The police nationale, whose officers are called agents de police, are under the command of the Interior Ministry. They are responsible for all policing within the jurisdiction of their police station. This is very similar to the geographical U.S. police structure. However, the French national police are headed by a General Director, which does not have a counterpart in the U.S.

            The gendarmerie is a division of the army, which is under the command of the Defense Ministry, but it is at the assistance of the Interior Ministry. This does not have an equivalent in the U.S. police force, that is, no part of the U.S. army is under the police force. They are responsible for the federal crimes, especially those of national interest, and special units like air, coastal, highway and mountain patrols. This division is similar to the FBI of the U.S., though it can be viewed as a hybrid since it also performs the community services done mostly by the U.S. preventive police.

            Lastly, the CRS are the disturbance police, and they are responsible for controlling the crowd and public unrests. This function that they perform is just one of the functions performed by the U.S. city police.


Faull, J., & Nikpay A. (Eds.). (2007). The EC Law of Competition, Second Edition. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Freeman, M. (2006). Truth Commissions and Procedural Fairness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Griffiths, C.T. (2008). Canadian Police Work, Second Edition. Nelson Education Ltd.

Lynch, L.M., McBride, R.B., & Thibault, E.A. (2000). Proactive Police Management, Fifth Edition. Prentice Hall.

Reames, B. (2003).Police Forces in Mexico: A Profile. Conference on Reforming the Administration of Justice in Mexico.

Swanson, C.R., Taylor, R.W., & Territo, L. (2007). Police Administration: Structures, Processes, and Behavior. Prentice Hall.

(2008). European Police and Justice Systems – France. Retrieved August 29, 2008, from Interpol Web site: http://www.interpol.int/Public/Region/Europe/pjsystems/France.asp

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