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Police Chief vs. Sheriff: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

Police chiefs and sheriffs are both law enforcement officers with a lot of responsibility. They have different roles within the department, but both work to keep the community safe. In this article, we compare and contrast the job titles of police chief and sheriff, and we provide information on what you can expect from each position.

What is a Police Chief?

Police Chiefs are the highest-ranking officers in a police department. They are responsible for the department’s overall operation, including budgeting, personnel, training, and community relations. Police Chiefs develop and implement department policies, procedures, and programs. They also oversee the investigation of crimes and the arrest of suspects. In larger departments, Police Chiefs may delegate some of these duties to Assistant Police Chiefs. Police Chiefs typically have many years of experience working in law enforcement and have a deep understanding of the criminal justice system.

What is a Sheriff?

Sheriffs are the chief law enforcement officers in their counties. They are responsible for maintaining the peace, patrolling their jurisdictions and investigating crimes. They may also operate county jails, provide security for county courthouses and transport prisoners. Sheriffs typically work with their county’s Board of Commissioners to develop the budget for their office and to set priorities for their department. They also work closely with other law enforcement agencies to coordinated efforts on investigations and to share resources and information.

Police Chief vs. Sheriff

Here are the main differences between a police chief and a sheriff.

Job Duties

Both sheriffs and police chiefs have similar job duties, such as ensuring the safety of citizens in their jurisdictions. They may also oversee other tasks related to law enforcement, including traffic management, crime scene investigations and criminal investigations. The primary difference between the two positions is that a sheriff oversees operations in a specific jurisdiction, while a police chief manages departmental functions for an entire city or town. For example, a sheriff might patrol rural areas where there’s little crime, but a police chief might develop specialized task forces to address issues like gang activity or organized crime in their cities.

Job Requirements

Police chiefs and sheriffs typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field. Some agencies may prefer candidates with a master’s degree, especially for higher-level positions. In addition to their education, police chiefs and sheriffs must have several years of experience working in law enforcement. They often start their careers as police officers before being promoted to supervisory or management roles. Some agencies also require candidates to complete a leadership development program before being considered for a position as police chief or sheriff.

Work Environment

Police chiefs and sheriffs work in different environments. Police chiefs typically work in an office environment, where they can access the department’s resources to help them with their duties. They may also travel to crime scenes or other locations to assess situations and make decisions about how to handle a situation.

Sheriffs usually work in more of a field environment, often spending time outdoors on patrol. This allows them to respond quickly to emergencies and provide assistance to citizens in need.


Both police chiefs and sheriffs are responsible for leading and managing law enforcement agencies. They develop budgets, create policies and procedures, oversee training programs and direct the daily operations of their departments. Both positions also require excellent communication skills to interact with the public, media and other government officials.

Police chiefs typically work for city police departments, while sheriffs are elected officials who usually work for county sheriff’s offices. Because of this difference in jurisdiction, police chiefs often have more authority than sheriffs. For example, police chiefs can directly appoint and fire officers, while sheriffs typically cannot. Police chiefs also tend to have more control over their department’s budget than sheriffs.

Both police chiefs and sheriffs need to have a strong understanding of law enforcement principles and practices. However, because they often have different areas of focus, they may use different skills in their jobs. For example, police chiefs may spend more time developing community policing initiatives, while sheriffs may focus on patrolling rural areas or providing security for courthouses.


The average salary for a police chief is $87,723 per year, while the average salary for a sheriff is $59,387 per year. The salary for both positions may vary depending on the state in which you work, the size of the department and the level of experience you have.


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