Becoming a Sheriff: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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A sheriff's median annual salary is around $100,000. Is it worth the training requirements? See real job duties and get the truth about the job outlook to find out if becoming a sheriff is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Sheriff or Sheriff's Deputy

A sheriff and sheriff's deputy are responsible for protecting the lives and property of individuals on a county level. While this career comes with great risks, it allows you to work in public service, giving back to your local community. Consider these pros and cons to determine if becoming a sheriff or sheriff's deputy is the right career for you.

Pros of a Career in a Sheriff's Department
Little or no college may be required (positions available with high school degree and academy training)*
Higher-than-average wage for sheriffs (median annual wage about $100,400 in 2015)**
Full-time work available*
Opportunity to protect and serve community*

Cons of a Career in a Sheriff's Department
Slow job growth in law enforcement (5% from 2012-2022)*
Sheriffs may need to be elected into office*
High possibility of physical injury (higher rate than national average)*
May be required to work long hours (nights, weekends and holidays)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **Salary.com

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As a sheriff or sheriff's deputy, you may be responsible for arresting individuals who are breaking the law, investigating criminal activity, providing security for public events and monitoring speeding violations. In addition to patrol duties, you'll write detailed reports, testify in court and prepare cases. Patrolling courthouses, placing people in protective custody and serving subpoenas may also be part of your job duties. Additionally, sheriffs may be responsible for service planning, personnel management, community relations and budgetary concerns. In some areas, the sheriff's department houses the county jail, so deputies may also handle duties within the jail, such as monitoring prisoners or handling the detention and release paperwork for prisoners.

Law enforcement work comes with physical and mental dangers. Mental trauma may occur from witnessing a horrific event. The job can also be very stressful due to the large amount of responsibility you must take on. Physical dangers are plentiful and may range from minor to severe. Sheriff's and patrol officers had a death rate of 21.4 per 100,000 workers as of 2007, according to Forbes.com.

Job Prospects and Salary

The BLS reported that police and sheriff's patrol officers had a slower-than-average growth rate of 5% between 2012 and 2022. Job growth was reliant upon population increases and funding from the government and public. This can greatly affect the number of job openings each year, making it slightly unpredictable. Furthermore, job growth is geographically dependent, which adds to the trouble with predicting the number of job openings in any given area each year.

The BLS reported that sheriff's patrol officers wages ranged from about $33,000-$92,500 in 2013. The states with the highest concentrations of jobs available to police and sheriff's patrol officers were California, Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois. Additionally, Salary.com reported sheriffs earned from around $89,700-$112,000 as of March 2015.

Education and Training Requirements

Sheriff

According to the National Sheriffs' Association, nearly all sheriffs in the United States are elected positions. These positions may be affiliated with a political party, and some states may require an aspiring sheriff to have prior law enforcement experience or certification before holding office. For instance, Tennessee requires a sheriff to be at least 25 year of age, have a high school diploma and hold 3 years of experience as a peace officer. However, other states, like Arizona, only require an elected official to be 18 years of age and a resident of the state.

Sheriff's Deputy

While the training requirements for deputies vary, employers usually require a high school diploma or a couple years of college. Most agencies require completion of academy training. According to a survey from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2000, sheriff's officers may complete about 1,040 hours of academy training; however, this is dependent on the size of the jurisdiction served.

You may also be required to meet civil service regulations. These regulations specify that you must be a U.S. citizen, meet physical requirements and be at least 21 years old. You may have to undergo physical, written and practical testing, as well as a background check and drug screening. Additionally, sheriff's departments look for individuals who have the following skills and personality traits:

  • Friendly
  • Honest
  • Responsible
  • Respectful
  • Sound judgment
  • People-oriented

Top Skills for Sheriff's Deputies

Since sheriffs are typically elected officials, these jobs are not found on job boards. However, you can find the top skills required of deputies by looking through real job postings. Employers typically have lengthy application packets and require testing and academy training. To get an idea of what employers were looking for in sheriff's deputies in March 2012, check out the job postings below:

  • A county sheriff's department in Iowa was seeking entry-level deputies with certification.
  • In California, a county sheriff's department wanted applicants with a valid state driver's license and a California certification.
  • Another California sheriff's department was looking for deputies who were currently enrolled in a certified academy, or who had completed the academy training within the last three years.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

To help yourself have a better chance of obtaining employment as a sheriff, you may want to begin preparing in high school by taking classes in physical education and participating in sports to help you develop the physical traits that many employers desire. Learning a foreign language can also be helpful if you're seeking employment in an area with a large foreign language speaking population. Military and firearms training or defense tactic training can also be beneficial. Additionally, you may want to consider joining a professional organization, such as the National Sheriffs' Association, which offers specialized training, educational discounts and networking for prospective sheriffs and sheriff's deputies.

Other Fields to Consider

Private Detective

If the average job growth makes you reconsider becoming a sheriff, you may want to consider other careers like becoming a private detective. To become a private detective, you don't need any formal education; however, you may need 1-5 years of experience and on-the-job training. Licensing is typically required in most states, according to the BLS. In some cases, licensing requirements may include formal education or other training. While the BLS predicted the job outlook for private detectives is faster-than-average (21% from 2010-2020), average wages are expected to be slightly less at $47,000 as of May 2011.

Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers

If you would like to work in surveillance, but don't want to complete rigorous academy training, you could choose to become a security guard or gaming surveillance officer. A high school education is usually all that is required to become a security guard. Some on-the-job training may be required if you will be carrying a gun during the course of your work. Licensing is usually required, according to the BLS, and typically involves meeting age and training requirements, as well as passing a background check. While the wages are less with an average of $33,000 in May 2011, the BLS predicted this field would see average job growth of 18% from 2010-2020.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

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    2. American InterContinental University

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      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
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      • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice
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    3. Colorado State University Global

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    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
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      • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
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    4. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - Criminal Justice
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    5. Saint Joseph's University

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      • MS in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
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      • Bachelor: Public Safety and Emergency Management
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      • Doctor of Business Admin - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
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    8. South University

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    9. University of the Southwest

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      • MBA - Law Enforcement & Corrections
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Colorado Technical University

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Criminal Justice
  • BSCJ: Law Enforcement
  • Associate: Criminal Justice

Which subject are you interested in?

American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Forensic Science
  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics

What is your highest level of education?

Keiser University

  • B.A. - Criminal Justice
  • B.A. - Homeland Security
  • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Homeland Security

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Federal Law Enforcement
  • MS in Criminal Justice
  • MS in Criminal Justice Homeland Security

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • MS in Leadership: Disaster Preparedness & Executive Fire Leadership
  • Bachelor: Public Safety and Emergency Management

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
  • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Homeland Security
  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

South University

  • Criminal Justice (BS)

What is your highest level of education completed?