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Sheriff vs. Police Officer: What Are the Differences?

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

A career in law enforcement can be both exciting and rewarding. Two common positions in this field are that of a sheriff and a police officer. Though both work to keep their communities safe, there are several key differences between the two.

In this article, we discuss the differences between a sheriff and a police officer, and we provide additional law enforcement professions you may be interested in pursuing.

What is a Sheriff?

Sheriffs are typically the highest ranking law enforcement officer in a county. They are responsible for maintaining the county jail, patrolling the county and providing law enforcement services to the county courts. They may also serve civil papers, such as summonses and subpoenas. Some Sheriffs Departments also provide search and rescue services, operate 911 dispatch centers and provide school resource officers.

What is a Police Officer?

Police Officers are responsible for enforcing the law and keeping the peace within their jurisdictions. They patrol their assigned areas to deter crime and respond to emergency calls. Police Officers typically work for city, county or state governments. They may also work for federal agencies, such as the Secret Service or the Transportation Security Administration. Police Officers typically have a high school diploma or equivalent, although some agencies may require additional education or training. They must also complete a police academy training program and pass a background check.

Sheriff vs. Police Officer

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

Job Duties

Sheriff and police officer duties can differ because of the different responsibilities they have within their communities. For example, a sheriff is responsible for managing and enforcing the law within an entire county. This involves patrolling the streets in a sheriff’s vehicle as well as conducting investigations into criminal activity.

Police officers typically work within a specific precinct or district within a city. They may patrol on foot or in vehicles depending on the needs of their community and the size of their precinct. Police officers also investigate crimes and conduct surveillance when necessary. Both sheriffs and police officers perform other job duties related to protecting the community and upholding the law.

Job Requirements

The job requirements for sheriff and police officer positions vary by state, but most agencies require applicants to have a high school diploma or equivalent. Some agencies may prefer candidates with some college coursework or a degree in criminal justice, but it is not always required. After completing their education, candidates must undergo training at a police academy, which typically lasts between 12 and 14 weeks. Some states also require officers to complete continuing education credits throughout their careers to maintain their certification.

Work Environment

Police officers and sheriffs work in different environments. Police officers typically work in urban areas, where they may encounter a variety of people with different backgrounds and lifestyles. They often patrol streets or highways to respond to calls for help from citizens.

Sheriffs usually work in rural areas, where their duties include patrolling the county’s roads and responding to emergency calls. Sheriffs also manage jails and prisons within their counties.


Both police officers and sheriff’s deputies need to have excellent communication skills. They use these skills when they are writing reports, testifying in court and interacting with the public. Both groups also need to be able to think quickly on their feet and make split-second decisions.

Police officers typically work within a specific jurisdiction, such as a city or town. They need to have an understanding of that area, including the layout and common crime hotspots. Sheriff’s deputies often cover larger areas, such as counties. As a result, they may need to have a more comprehensive understanding of the area they patrol.

Both police officers and sheriff’s deputies need to have physical strength and stamina. They may need to chase after suspects or subdue them during arrests. They also need to be able to wear protective gear, such as bulletproof vests and helmets, for long periods of time.


The average salary for a sheriff is $59,387 per year, while the average salary for a police officer is $56,890 per year. The salary for both positions may vary depending on the state in which you work, your level of experience and the size of the department you work for.


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