CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a sheriff.
Is becoming a sheriff right for me?
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High School or GED
Aspiring sheriffs must meet the minimum education requirement of a high school or General Equivalency diploma. While in high school, a focus on physical fitness and developing communication and general problem-solving skills is recommended. Contacting and/or visiting sheriff’s departments to request information and advice will also help to lay a foundation to pursue the career.
Sheriff or Police Academy
To become a sheriff, candidates must gain admission to and graduate from a police or sheriff academy. These three-to-six-month training programs combine classroom instruction with hands-on exercises in all aspects of the occupation.
Prospective sheriffs must generally work their way up the law enforcement ladder. In most cases, they gain experience as sworn officers and advance to deputy sheriff roles before being assuming a sheriff position.
Election or Appointment
Depending on the jurisdiction in which they wish to work, prospective sheriffs are either elected or appointed.
Higher Education (recommended / optional)
As an elected or appointed official, sheriffs are often the highest-ranking law enforcement employee in the county; they may therefore be expected to have more advanced credentials than uniformed police officers or deputies. Sheriffs that pursue higher education commonly earn an Associate’s degree. This degree may be mandatory in some states. A very small percentage of sheriffs earn a Bachelor’s degree.
National Sheriffs’ Association and Institute
For newly elected or appointed sheriffs, the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) offers a comprehensive two-week training program administered by the National Sheriffs’ Institute (NSI). NSA membership is a condition of enrollment. This program provides new sheriffs with the opportunity to learn more about their expected role, become familiar with potential legal issues, and learn how to work with the media to create a safer community. The NSI also offers advanced programs for NSA members.
How to become a Sheriff
Applicants for sheriff positions typically possess at least a high school or GED (General Equivalency) diploma. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most entry-level officers have some college experience or earn an Associate or Bachelor’s degree in law enforcement, criminology, criminal justice, or a related discipline.
Courses in psychology, communications, public speaking, and report writing are also valued in the field. Many agencies offer financial assistance to officers who pursue degrees.
Following their education, sheriffs typically undergo recruit training provided by the county in which they intend to work. Some jurisdictions have a sheriff training academy that teaches classes in constitutional law, civil rights, state law, local ordinances, crime scene and investigation management, police ethics, leadership, and professionalism. Recruits also receive training and gain supervised experience in areas such as patrol, traffic control, the use of firearms, self-defence, first aid, and emergency response. In counties without sheriff training facilities, candidates generally join the police academy, start out as officers, and work their way up to becoming sheriffs.
Physical conditioning is another part of most sheriff training programs. Candidates must meet specific physical qualifications and be prepared to demonstrate endurance. They must also pass vision and hearing tests and a competitive written exam. Emotional and mental fitness are equally important in this often highly stressful role. It is therefore not uncommon for job applicants to have multiple interviews and undergo background checks, psychological evaluations, a lie detector test, and drug tests. They must also, of course, have clean criminal records. Previous work experience or a military background is often viewed as an advantage in the job market.
All sheriffs in the U.S. must be American citizens. It is important to note that in many jurisdictions sheriffs are elected to the position to serve a four-year term. Under these rules, a sheriff must file the necessary paperwork and run an electoral campaign before gaining office.