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What are Sheriffs | Roles, Training, and Skills!

April 7th, 2020 what are sheriffs

What are Sheriffs?

Sheriffs are responsible for maintaining law and order in various countries throughout the United States. Of the 50 states, 48 have sheriffs and, as of 2022, there were just over 3,100 sheriff’s offices throughout the country. Here, we review what sheriffs do, their career and roles, and other key facts that you need to know.

Sheriffs are not hired by any government officials. Instead, they are elected. This is what often differentiates sheriff offices from other police departments. The only two states that do not have sheriffs include Alaska and Connecticut. Other than that, most states (42) elect sheriffs to a 4-year term. Some states – such as Arkansas and New Hampshire – instead elect sheriffs to 2-year terms, whilst Massachusetts elects’ sheriffs to a 6-year term.

In a small number of counties, sheriffs are appointed – not elected. This is the case in Hawaii and Rhode Island as well as a few smaller counties. Because sheriffs are mostly elected, the position has a political dimension. This contrasts with standard law enforcement agencies in the United States where officers are awarded on merit and qualifications alone.

That said, some counties now require prospective sheriffs to hold some minimum educational or formal qualifications. Ordinary officers who are under the direction of the sheriff are typically referred to as deputies. The second-in-command is known as the chief deputy or undersheriff.

What does the Sheriff Do?

The precise role of a sheriff varies from county to county, state to state.

Some of the roles of a sheriff include:

  • Budget allocation
  • Conduct arrests, serve warrants for arrest, and other services for magistrates
  • Maintenance of peace in public spaces and the entire county
  • Final authority to grant permission to hire new deputies
  • The fundamental duty of a sheriff to protect the people in the county and their property from any actual or prospective danger
  • In some cases, a sheriff can change the guidelines of enforcing state laws
  • Traffic control, homicide investigations, narcotics investigations, courthouse security, and prisoner transportation, among many other essential policing duties
  • Working with SWAT teams, K9 units, or other specialist policing divisions
  • Many sheriffs’ departments also work closely with the community, in various neighborhood watch programs, to prevent the local spread of crime

How to Become a Sheriff

Precise qualifications vary on a county-by-county, state by state basis.

That said, there are some common trends with the qualification and election process. Typically, the process involves:

  • Pass the police officer exam and become a qualified law enforcement officer in the United States – which involves taking a written test, fitness test, and oral board interview
  • Earn the requisite qualification – often an undergraduate degree. Consult your local sheriff county department for specific details on what they expect
  • Earn work experience – at least 1-5 years’ experience. Candidates must demonstrate that they have the physical ability, local knowledge and practical and strategic expertise to develop into the role of a qualified sheriff
  • Next, file the relevant papers to put your name forward. Organize and build-up funds for your election campaign
  • Swear an oath of loyalty. Furthermore, some sheriff departments may require you to undertake a specific training course to prepare you fully for the role

Consider also that, as a newly elected sheriff, you will have to shoulder the immense burden of responsibility that the role carries. You may be interested in considering advanced training as provided by the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA).


The salary of the sheriff varies from county to county, state to state.

In metropolitan cities, the sheriffs are offered higher salaries than those in villages or small towns. Based on a survey in 2018, the average salary earned annually by a sheriff with at least 3-years’ experience was $61,380.

Deputy sheriffs can expect to earn $48,446 per annum, increasing with experience and responsibility.

Skills and Experience

Qualified sheriffs must have the following skills and experience:

  • Effective communication skills
  • The ability to work with – and lead – a team
  • To be an effective decision maker – reviewing all evidence, unbiasedly
  • A strong ability to work under intense pressure
  • Robust understanding of local, state, and federal legislation
  • To have both physical and mental endurance
  • An active listener with acute critical thinking skills
  • Problem-solving, particularly in relation to investigative work and crime

Sheriffs remain one of the most important sets of law enforcement officers throughout the United States. They control some of the largest departments in the US, such as Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department – with over 11,000 deputies – and Cook County, Illinois – which has almost 7,000 sworn members. Broward County Sheriff’s Officer is the third largest with 5,500 active personnel.

So, in answering the question – what are sheriffs? – we’ve learned that they are among the most important law enforcement officers throughout the United States, often with immense responsibility and, through their direct election process, are a very different way to how things operate compared to other police departments.

Check back to Police Test Study Guide soon for more on sheriffs, the work they do, and how we can help train you to become a qualified member of this established profession.


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