Sheriffs supervise police officers and the overall public safety plans of a county. In addition to having experience and knowledge about the criminal justice system and protecting the public, sheriffs also need to be good public speakers. They are elected to their posts and often hold press conferences, are interviewed by the media and work with mayors, county judges and other local leaders to develop crime prevention plans and corrections plans. Sheriffs may also sponsor local community programs to promote education, youth activities and anti-drug campaigns. They are experienced law enforcement professionals and still answer calls, make arrests, conduct investigations and enforce laws. Sheriffs patrol their area, manage other deputies and officers, work with attorneys, judges and correctional officers, assist during traffic accidents, and write up reports. They find themselves in potentially dangerous situations, from car chases to apprehending criminals to conducting raids. Sheriffs are armed, so an ability to use a gun or other weapon is a must.
Sheriffs earn higher salaries than other police officers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, police supervisors earned between $53,900 and $83,940 in 2006. The base salary for police chiefs was between $78,547 and $99,698. The salary for a sheriff largely depends on the geographic location in which he or she works. Those who work in very populous counties that include large metropolitan areas will earn much higher salaries than sheriffs who work in very rural communities with a lower cost of living. Because sheriffs are employed by the government, they are eligible for a full benefits package that includes retirement savings plans, life insurance, health insurance, training, paid time off and more. In some areas, the families of fallen sheriffs and police officers receive funding and tuition assistance as part of this benefits package.
While experience is one of the most important qualifications for a county sheriff, education is also significant. Because sheriffs are public figures and elected officials as well as law enforcement officials, a higher education in criminal justice can go a long way. A master’s degree will supplement on-the-job training by giving you a more holistic perspective of law enforcement and the legal system, and graduate school will also prepare you to be a better communicator in writing and speaking.