The Distinctions Between a Sheriff and a Police Officer

Although these two types of public servants are very similar, a sheriff and a policeman have essential differences too. Did you know that voters elect one of them? Other distinctions are the boundaries of areas that they serve and where they get their funds.

Sheriffs hold public office, and in fact, they are elected every four years. According to the law, a sheriff is a peace officer who enforces criminal laws, serves warrants, manages the county jail, and protects the courts. The general public funds the sheriff’s office.

In some states, the sheriff helps shuttle prisoners to local courts and provides transportation for juvenile delinquents and mentally challenged detainees. An interesting bit: sheriffs can sometimes be called on to help rope in livestock on the run.

On the other hand, police officers are not elected; instead, they are hired by city managers. A city manager plans the duration of the police’s work term and how large the police force should be.

One striking difference of police officers to sheriffs is that they do not have the responsibility for prisoner transport or giving assistance in rounding up cattle running amok. However, they do serve warrants and act as a bailiff. They may or may not operate a jail.  

Interestingly, the counterpart of a sheriff is the chief of police while a police officer corresponds to or is equivalent to the position of a sheriff’s deputy.

If a county both have a police department and sheriff’s department, it is the sheriff’s department that controls jail management, transporting prisoners to and from jail, courts, and hospitals, and as well as the processing of legal papers.

Question: is it redundant to have both departments in the same area? The answer: it all depends on politics. It may help to have two county law enforcement systems. A sheriff is very powerful, having a staff of armed, uniformed employees to provide public services. Unlike the chief of police who undergoes a professional hiring process, an appointed sheriff cannot be fired easily. Of course, he or she can be removed from office, but not for simple reasons like offending the county commissioners. Counties put up county police departments to have more stable political control in implementing the law. The county chief of police can be removed if they are not up to par.

A “sheriff’s office” and “sheriff’s department” actually mean the same thing. Although sheriffs are elected constitutional officers, they always take their work seriously. They also prefer to run in the elections and hold an office instead of a department.

These are the basics of the differences between a sheriff and a policeman. If you are considering a career in law enforcement after reading this, the first step is to get a degree and set your sights on a police officer or sheriff’s deputy position.

On the other hand, if you are looking into a career related to the management of people convicted of crimes and enforcing rules and conflicts resolution in the community, a position of a correctional officer is an option.