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How to Become a Sheriff: Career Education and Training Information

Learn how to become a sheriff. Research the job duties and education requirements, and find out how to start a career in the field of local law enforcement.

Should I Become a Sheriff?

Sheriffs are responsible for county or regional law enforcement. Common job duties include serving court orders, arresting criminals and operating county jails. Most sheriffs also collaborate with other members of law enforcement, including police officers, judges and correctional workers. Stress is inherent in this profession, due to potential danger and injury. Many of these professionals feel great reward, however, from serving the public and helping to make their counties safe.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's degree is required in some states
Degree Field Criminal justice, law enforcement, or homeland security
Licensure or Certification Police officer licensure or certification required by state law
Experience 1-5 years experience as a police officer
Key Skills Problem-solving abilities, leadership capabilities, thorough understanding of police firearms, vehicles and police strategies, multitasking proficiency, strong organizational and communication skills, familiarity with databases, photo imaging and map creation software, empathy and understanding of human behavior
Additional Requirements U.S. citizenship, physical strength; must also meet age and 1-year residency requirements
Salary (2015) $100,813 (Median salary for all sheriffs and police chiefs)

Sources: State and county government websites; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS); Occupational Information Network; Salary.com.

Step 1: Become a Police Officer

Several jurisdictions require sheriff candidates to be licensed or certified police officers. Qualifications for becoming a police officer include a high school diploma and the completion of a police academy training program. In most cases, program applicants will need to pass background checks and physical exams before moving on to study such topics such as search and seizure, effective communication, defensive tactics, community policing, report writing, and police vehicle operations.

Success Tip:

  • Develop physical strength and endurance. Police academy training includes extensive physical conditioning. Cadets will need to develop the strength and stamina to endure physical activity for extended periods. Individuals interested in becoming police officers should consider getting in shape prior to applying to these training programs.

Step 2: Earn an Undergraduate Degree

Some law enforcement agencies require police officers to complete an associate or bachelor's degree program. Sheriffs could also be required to hold a degree. Relevant programs are available in law enforcement or criminal justice. Coursework includes topics in criminal law and procedures, the juvenile justice system, forensics, criminal theory, investigation procedures, basic defense tactics and patrol operations.

Success Tip:

  • Become an intern for the sheriff's department. Undergraduate criminal justice and law enforcement students can get work experience through internship opportunities. By completing an internship, graduates may improve their job prospects.

Step 3: Get Work Experience

To be eligible for sheriff elections, the majority of jurisdictions require candidates to have anywhere from one to five years of prior experience in the law enforcement or criminal justice fields. Candidates can fulfill this experience requirement by working on the police force. In some cases, significant experience as a judge will suffice, while other jurisdictions allow candidates to substitute education for up to four years of experience.

Success Tip:

  • Be a project leader. Sheriff positions entail supervisory responsibilities, so job candidates might want to acquire management experience. Consider working as the head officer on an investigation or volunteering to supervise community outreach programs, such as neighborhood watches.

Step 4: Run for Office

Once individuals have met all qualifications, most jurisdictions require them to file paperwork with the county to show they're officially running for the position of sheriff. Candidates must then organize and raise funds for their election campaigns. They will need to follow campaign rules as set by the local authorities.

Success Tip:

  • Assemble a campaign committee. Consider hiring a campaign manager to organize and complete various tasks, such as setting up media interviews, writing press releases, promoting the campaign, and raising funds. Campaign managers might also hire other supporters to help complete these tasks.

Step 5: Get Elected

After being elected, most states require newly elected sheriffs to swear an oath of loyalty and agree to a contractual bond. If they fail in their duties, they might be required to pay a monetary penalty in accordance with the agreements listed in the bond. Some agencies also require newly elected sheriffs to complete designated law enforcement training programs. The length of a sheriff's appointment varies by region, but in many locations they remain in office for a term of four years.

Step 6: Consider Advanced Training

For newly elected sheriffs, the National Sheriffs' Association (NSA) offers a comprehensive two-week training program through the National Sheriffs' Institute (NSI). In order to attend, membership into the NSA is mandatory, and dues vary by county population. This program offers newly elected sheriffs the opportunity to learn more about their expected role within the community, become familiar with legal issues that may arise, and learn how to work with the media in order to create a safer environment for their citizens.

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