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The following is for informational purposes only

US County Police

Who are County Police?

US County Police

County police refer to sheriffs and their law enforcement agencies also called offices. Sheriffs are elected government officers and hold the highest law enforcement position in the county. Chiefs of police, however, are employees of the county and rank lower than sheriffs.

The term for an elected sheriff is usually two, three, four or six years. Only three states in the U.S. do not have any sheriff’s offices, and those states are Alaska, Connecticut, and Hawaii. As of April 2018, there was a total of 3,081 sheriffs in the country.

Although it varies by county and state, the job of a county sheriff’s office is to enforce laws and protect the peace. In some counties, a sheriff acts like a police chief. In others, the sheriff’s duties are limited. Generally, though, sheriffs are responsible for county jails and the security at other government buildings within the jurisdiction. Some other functions performed by sheriff’s offices are animal enforcement, narcotics investigation, traffic control, accident investigation, transportation of prisoners and school security. Sometimes sheriffs serve legal papers, enforce evictions, seize property, and serve warrants. Sheriff’s departments also respond to emergencies and coordinate resources between state divisions and departments to facilitate help to victims and resolution of issues.

The National Sheriffs’ Association sponsored the National Neighborhood Watch Program, and sheriff’s offices around the country work closely with neighborhoods and communities to expand their network of law enforcement tools and resources.



US County Police

Sheriffs date back to 871 A.D. in England when King Alfred divided his kingdom up into “shires” which eventually became counties. He appointed a sheriff (or chief) for each region, and since there were no police, judges or magistrates, the sheriff was responsible for all law enforcement.

In 1634 in the new colonies, Virginia elected the first U.S. sheriff, William Stone. Later with the execution of the Constitution, sheriffs were given the role of the highest elected law enforcement official for each county. Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “the office of Sheriff is the most important of all executive offices of the country”.

During the 1700 and 1800s, the duties of the sheriff’s office fluctuated, but it remains that a sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in the region. Sheriff’s offices and local police work closely together to maintain order and keep citizens safe.

In October of 1888, a group of sheriffs came together to form the National Sheriffs’ Association, originally named the Inter-State Sheriffs' Association. The Articles of Incorporation were signed in 1940. The organization was designed to improve the service of the sheriff’s office and help officers do their jobs and protect citizens.

County Police vs. Cops

US County Police

County police are often called sheriffs. Their main focus is maintaining law and order in their towns and cities. They overlap and provide law enforcement to areas that have no local police or to assist smaller police forces where they are unable to respond to crime or safety issues.

Sheriffs are also responsible for maintaining the peace and keeping the local jails. Ranking for both local police departments and sheriff’s offices are the same. Sheriffs may function on many levels such as performing legal, political and ceremonial duties whereas local cops only protect the peace and enforce the law.

The most significant difference between local cops and county police is jurisdiction. Local police can only perform their duties within their specific town or region. Sheriffs can cross jurisdictional boundaries and enforce the law anywhere within their county. The towns and cities employ local police. Sheriffs are elected officials of the entire county, and the Constitution protects sheriffs but not local police.

Sheriffs are elected officials chosen by the public during voting. A chief of police is generally appointed by the mayor or police commissioner of a city.

Sometimes sheriff’s offices are responsible for background checks and issuing gun permits. Many sheriff’s offices employ civilians for consulting and specialized services.


County Police Types

The ranking system used in a sheriff’s office is closely related to that of a regular police department. In order of ranking, highest to lowest generally, it follows this order:

  • Sheriff - a county’s highest-ranking elected law enforcement officer. He or she may serve a term of two, three, four or six years.
  • Chief Deputy - the chief deputy, is appointed by and reports directly to the sheriff. He or she is the highest-ranking officer below the sheriff. The chief deputy often supervises other officers.
  • Colonel - further splitting the division of power, a colonel oversees a number of different departments, all headed by a major.
  • Major - a major often assumes the role and responsibilities of a colonel in counties where there are none.
  • Captain - a captain usually heads up a division such as the child protective services or another department with a specific focus.
  • Lieutenant - a lieutenant is considered the lowest level of senior officer. They often supervise others and have more responsibility than inferior officers like sergeants and deputies.
  • Sergeant - a sergeant supervises corporals and officers and frequently assists in training recruits. This role requires good leadership qualities and excellent communication skills.
  • Corporal - although not really a supervisory role, a corporal is a higher rank than a deputy and may be given additional responsibility and authority over other officers.
  • Deputy or Officer - a deputy or officer in a sheriff’s office begins their law enforcement career at this rank. Their primary duty is to patrol.
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