How to Become a Sheriff in 5 Steps

Discover how to become a county sheriff. Learn about sheriff qualifications, job duties, salary and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Law Enforcement degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Sheriff Requirements and Job Description

A sheriff is an elected or appointed law enforcement officer that oversees a large area, such as a county. They perform many of the same duties as police officers in terms of responding to emergency calls and keeping the peace, and they may work in conjuncture with local police departments when their jurisdictions overlap.

As a sheriff, you'll protect a given county by enforcing laws, apprehending suspects, issuing citations, executing warrants, and patrolling specific areas. You may also be expected to confiscate properties, manage emergency scenes, question witnesses and supervise jail operations. A sheriff may also be responsible for running the local jail and working within the local courts system, and they often oversee a staff of deputies who assist them with their duties. The following chart provides an overview of the requirements to run for sheriff.

Education Required High school diploma at minimum; associate or bachelor's degree recommended
Education Field of Study Criminal justice, law enforcement
Training Required Police academy
Key Responsibilities Enforce county laws; arrest suspects; testify in court; supervise deputy officers
Job Growth (2016-2026) 7%* (all police and sheriff's patrol officers)
Mean Annual Salary (2018) $65,400* (all police and sheriff's patrol officers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Steps To Become a Sheriff

While this is a position that you must earn through a county election or appointment, you'll still need to meet the specific requirements to run for sheriff positions. Detailed below are the specific steps to towards becoming a sheriff; the path is similar as the steps to becoming a police officer.

Step 1: Graduate from High School

As an aspiring sheriff, you'll need to meet the minimum education requirement of having a high school diploma. While in high school, focus on improving your level of physical fitness, communication skills and problem-solving skills. You can also contact nearby sheriff's departments to request information and advice.

Step 2: Complete Police or Sheriff Academy

To become a county sheriff, you must first become a sworn police officer by gaining admission to and graduating from a police academy. These training programs typically take 3-6 months to complete and combine classroom instruction with hands-on exercises. As a trainee, you'll receive instruction in topics like physical training, crime scene management, crowd control, firearms training, vehicle operation and criminal law. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also states that beginning law enforcement personnel must pass physical, psychological, background and written tests and be at least 21 years of age.

Step 3: Gain Law Enforcement Experience

While sheriff job positions in some counties are sometimes open to entry-level police officers, you'll usually need to work your way up the law enforcement ladder. Many sheriffs start off as police officers and then gain additional experience by becoming a sheriff deputy before being elected or appointed to their sheriff positions.

Step 4: Consider Higher Education

You may want to consider pursuing a criminal justice degree or taking some college-level criminal justice courses if you're interested in becoming a sheriff deputy. These programs can range from the associate's to master's degree levels, and the BLS reported that most entry-level officers had some type of college experience. When you become an elected sheriff, you'll likely be the highest-ranking law enforcement employee in the county - and thus expected to have more advanced credentials than uniformed police officers or deputies.

Step 5: Apply to a Sheriff's Office

Once you've fulfilled your educational requirements, research local sheriffs' offices to see if they're hiring and then submit an application. Sheriffs are either elected or appointed to their positions, depending on the state, but deputy sheriffs or other sworn officer positions might be available. According to the National Sheriff's Association, most states elect sheriffs for 4-year terms. New sheriffs can enroll in a one-week program known as the National Sheriff's Institute, which includes training in personnel management, media communication and leadership styles.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are many other careers in law enforcement that you may want to consider. You could become a police officer and perform many of the same duties as a sheriff or highway patrol officer, but at a city level. As a police officer, you could also work in a particular field or unit, such as narcotics or horseback. There are also job opportunities as private investigators and police detectives. If you're interested in working within the prison and court systems, you could pursue a job as a correctional officer or a bailiff.

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