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How to Become a Sheriff

As the highest form of law enforcement in a county, a sheriff or sheriff’s deputy has several responsibilities and a higher sense of accountability, since they are elected by their counties. They are charged with enforcing a county’s and federal laws and keeping good public order, often working closely with the courthouse to ensure the smooth and safe process of law.

What Does A Sheriff Do?

The responsibilities of a sheriff stem from the basic goals of enforcing a county’s and federal laws and the protection and preservation of life and property. Sheriffs are tasked with criminal investigations that require they interview witnesses, victims and suspects; gather physical evidence; apprehend, arrest and detain criminal suspects. They must deal with high risk and emergency situations that require fast thinking and acting. Then, they have to fill out accurate and honest reports and often appear in court. They must be knowledgeable about the laws they are enforcing, weapons—how to use and defend against them – and defensive driving. They must have the physical abilities to chase and subdue perpetrators and save lives. All of this is usually done in 8-12 hour shifts.

Where Are Sheriffs Employed?

Sheriffs are employed nationally at the county level, sometimes contained to city limits, but often working in more rural areas. They work closely with courthouse personnel like judges to maintain a peaceful environment, transport inmates, testify at trials and serve warrants, subpoenas and summonses.

Potential Salary & Job Growth

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for police and sheriff’s patrol officers was $64,490 as of May 2017. The category for police and detectives is expected to grow 7% from 2016-2026 to employ new sheriffs (about as fast as other careers and fields), with varying growth depending on location and budget. Those with degrees and/or bilingual abilities may have better career and salary opportunities.

Education And Skills Required

Reviewing sheriff job descriptions posted by individual counties, like the ones here, here and here, will be helpful in meeting the criteria for becoming one. Job applicants should be at least 18 or 19 years of age, depending on where they are applying. Applicants must also have a valid citizenship and driver’s license and have no felony, DWI, domestic violence or misdemeanor convictions. They must also not have any current drug use or alcohol abuse. With those criteria met, applicants must meet education requirements, which can vary by county or state:

  • High school diploma or GED + four years experience as a certified law enforcement or correctional facility officer
  • Associate’s degree and/or military service with honorable discharge, such as:
    • Four years active military
    • Six years reserve military

Required skills concern both physical and mental capacities, so applicants must pass a medical exam to ensure they are capable of handling the job’s many mental and physical requirements. New officers must pass a “Basic Motor Skills Test” to determine their fitness ability, like shooting a gun, running a mile, pushing and pulling heavy loads, jumping from and climbing heights, balancing, jumping and swimming. Police generally attend police training or boot camp to gain necessary fitness levels and should maintain or improve those levels throughout their employment.

Mental capabilities are essential, especially in life-or-death situations. Prospectives must get screened and interviewed by a board of professionals; and pass a polygraph test, full background investigation and mental aptitude test. Sound judgment, problem solving, resourcefulness and teamwork are just a few necessary skills; sheriffs must be able to decide how best to handle and diffuse tense situations, react well in emergencies and be courageous in high-risk circumstances.

Finally, be prepared for the politics of becoming a sheriff as well as the job itself and make sure you are up for actually running for votes and campaigning against other candidates.

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