Sheriffs have enforced the laws since the beginning of U.S. history. Today, the job varies from place to place. There are sheriff’s departments in major cities (the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, for example, handles a variety of specialized jobs and covers areas not in the jurisdiction of the city police force). But usually, the sheriff is the top county law enforcement official in an area where there is no major police department.
A Unique Job
Because most sheriffs are elected or appointed, there’s not a specific degree program that could be called sheriff training. But to get into the kind of senior position in your police career that would make a locality want to appoint or elect you sheriff, a degree in law enforcement is a big help.
The job of sheriff is the county equivalent of a police chief, while a deputy sheriff is similar to a police officer. Sheriff’s departments generally do great deal of work with the courts. Among the tasks that sheriffs and their deputies need training for are:
- Finding criminals who have an arrest warrant out, and taking them into custody.
- Offering security services at courthouses questioning visitors who visit inmates at jails and transporting prisoners.
- Handling basic police jobs like serving summonses and controlling accident scenes.
- Seizing assets to satisfy court judgments and running auction sales on properties that have been foreclosed.
- Increasingly, many sheriffs are involved in homeland security issues.
- Patrolling county-owned roads and properties.
A Little Bit More
Sheriffs have what are sometimes described as “police careers and a little bit more.” Their terms are usually for four years at time, though many are re-elected or re-appointed again and again.
In addition to sheriff or police career training (which ususally means at least an associates degree in law enforcement), you generally need to be a U.S. citizen with no criminal record, and be at least 18 years of age (though most sheriffs are, in fact, a good deal older than that when the are appointed). Sheriffs often fit the traditional image of the top cop in a rural county. But some occupy very senior positions in big jurisdictions. The Sheriff’s office in Suffolk County, NY (near New York City), for instance, has over 1,200 employees and actually oversees one of the largest police forces in the nation.