How to Become a Sheriff In 5 Steps

Those who are looking to serve their community in one of the highest careers should consider becoming a Sheriff.

The role of a Sheriff is elected by voters in the community and is often given to a person with nobility, ethics, and morals who agrees with the people around them.


To be considered for the position of Sheriff, you’ll need to have experience in law enforcement and be an active community member.

Job Description

Having experience as a police officer is the first step in becoming a proper Sheriff.

Once you run for the position and win, you’ll be tasked with overseeing the county, providing officers to your jurisdiction, and keeping up with the county jail.

Along with that, a Sheriff must be in charge of specific duties:

  • Patrolling
  • Resolving issues
  • Investigating crimes
  • Completing warrants
  • Arresting criminals
  • Responding to emergencies
  • Completing traffic safety stops

There are plenty of tasks to complete daily as a Sheriff, and no two days will likely look the same in this career.


On average, a Sheriff who works in the United States has a yearly salary of $119,063.

This is about $2,290 per week or $57 an hour.

Those who have more experience in the career and who work in larger cities may make a higher salary, closer to $132,877 per year.

Sheriffs at the top of their careers make $2,555 per week or $63 an hour.

Don’t expect to make that much when you just begin your career as a Sheriff.

On the lower side, a new Sheriff can make closer to $106,359 per year, or $2,045 a week, meaning that your hourly wage would be $51.

Salary Information by State

State Employed Avg. Annual Salary Avg. Hourly Pay Top 10% Annual Salary Bottom 10% Annual Salary
District of Columbia5,280$81,160$39.02$102,500$62,440
New Hampshire2,900$62,480$30.04$80,120$47,480
New Jersey20,510$90,520$43.52$128,360$51,110
New Mexico4,610$56,690$27.26$71,910$40,550
New York50,600$81,750$39.30$127,020$49,210
North Carolina20,480$51,310$24.67$70,240$37,230
North Dakota1,710$65,730$31.60$79,960$48,550
Rhode Island1,760$68,290$32.83$83,200$49,080
South Carolina11,640$49,490$23.79$65,250$36,250
South Dakota1,830$54,130$26.02$76,390$39,270
West Virginia3,190$48,310$23.23$59,520$37,070
Puerto Rico12,930$40,230$19.34$49,570$23,430

Annual Average Salary: Top 10 States

The top earning state in the field is California, where the average salary is $104,010.

These are the top 10 earning states in the field:

  • California - $104,010
  • Washington - $92,250
  • New Jersey - $90,520
  • Hawaii - $89,640
  • Alaska - $85,710
  • Illinois - $82,470
  • New York - $81,750
  • District of Columbia - $81,160
  • Colorado - $80,990
  • Oregon - $78,150
* Salary information based on the May 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers, OCC Code 33-3051, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become: Step-by-Step

1. Earn a Diploma

To become a Sheriff, it is important to have a high school diploma or a GED.

This will ensure that you have a proper education throughout your teenage years.

A GED is for adults who did not receive their diploma as teenagers and can be obtained by taking three to six months of classes and then completing an exam.

While in school, it is wise to study courses that pertain to law enforcement to have a basic understanding of the career that you seek.

Some of the classes that you may want to consider taking include psychology, sociology, law, ethics, and criminal justice.

It will take about four years to receive your high school diploma.

2. Complete Police Academy

After high school when you are ready to commit to your future career, consider enrolling in the police academy.

Working as a Sheriff means that you will need to have experience as a police officer, and this is the only way to go about the proper training.

The police academy should take about six months to finish and requires both classroom time and on-the-job experience.

During this time, expect to complete training on crime scene management, crowd control, laws and regulations in your jurisdiction, as well as how to use police vehicles and firearms.

You will likely apprentice or shadow senior police officers while you learn the ropes of law enforcement.

3. Work in Law Enforcement

Next, it is time to work as a police officer for a couple of years.

There are some areas in which you can become a Sheriff right out of the police academy, but those are few and far between.

This is because a Sheriff should know all aspects of the career, including hands-on experience with a variety of situations.

Through your law enforcement career, you’ll learn how to speak with people about crimes, understand how to handle criminals and work with fellow police officers to ensure everyone’s safety.

This camaraderie between police officers is something that you will want to build over time so that when you become Sheriff, your officers will have your back and help you in all types of incidents.

4. Run for Office

Becoming Sheriff means that you will need to run, like a political office, where you will be voted in by members of your community.

There may be specific requirements for who can run for office in your area, so make sure you contact your local government agency to find those out.

If you are ready to run, put your name on the ballot and proceed by advocating for yourself.

Those who are successful on the ballot will be voted in as Sheriff and will be sworn in once their term begins.

A Sheriff’s term is four years, and you can run again for as many years as you would like to work.

5. Earn a Degree

To advance your ability to do your job as a Sheriff, you may want to consider completing a bachelor’s degree at some point in your career.

This can be done during the police academy, before you enroll, or even while you are already Sheriff.

While it may be more difficult to pursue your Bachelor’s degree the higher you are in law enforcement due to time restraints, it is a credential that will get you farther in your pursuit.

There is no mandatory program to choose from, however, most Sheriffs who decide they want a degree will complete one in criminal justice, political science, law, or something similar.

It will take about four years of your time to complete a bachelor’s degree.


Most Sheriffs are elected by the public, which means there is not a minimum education requirement.

However, it is typical that you will need to have at least a high school diploma as well as time on the police force before you can begin your tenure as a Sheriff.

While you are studying for your high school diploma, it is wise to consider taking classes like:

  • Psychology
  • Criminology
  • Law
  • Sociology

This way, when you join the police force, you will already have some idea of what is expected of you and how to deal with criminals, victims, witnesses, and laws.

Once you decide to become a police officer, you will need to enroll in the academy.

It will take anywhere from three months to six months to complete this training.

Training will require both classroom time and on-the-job education.

Once you have passed the training academy and are an official police officer, you’ll need to work full-time to gain enough experience to run for Sheriff.

It is possible to have a bachelor’s degree and be a well-rounded Sheriff.

Consider completing a four-year program in criminal justice, criminology, political justice, or another relevant area.

While a bachelor’s degree is not a requirement for the job, it may boost your candidacy and show that you understand the intricacies of law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

Some Sheriffs go to school while studying, but that can often be stressful, so consider completing your degree before you run for Sheriff.

In this career, education is an ongoing experience, and you will likely need to do training and attend conferences and programs to keep up with techniques, laws, and procedures for patrolling and taking care of a community jail.

Consider online education that will allow you to work and learn at the same time.

Licensing & Certification

Certification may look different depending on which state you are from and where you plan to work.

However, most states do require some type of certification to work in law enforcement.

This is to ensure that police officers, firefighters, EMTS, and Sheriffs are of good standing with the law and understand procedures, protocols, and what to do in emergencies.

To work as a standard police officer, it is necessary to complete physical, psychological, and mental exams.

You will also need to provide a background check for the jurisdiction you will be working.

Many states require that you meet certain criteria before becoming certified:

  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Be a citizen of the United States
  • Have Basic Law Enforcement Training

After completing the police academy, all of the exams, and meeting credentials, you will be ready for certification as a police officer.

Once you have worked as a police officer for over a year, you can earn more certifications that can help you toward your goal of becoming a Sheriff.

These certifications are specialized and include areas like:

  • Correctional Officer
  • Probation Officer
  • Juvenile Officer
  • Certification for Military Service Members

Each certification can help build your resumé when you decide to run for the office of Sheriff.

Once you have become a Sheriff, it is possible to earn more certifications to deepen your understanding of law enforcement.

Some of the certifications that are available to Sheriffs are:

  • Court and Judicial Security
  • Criminal Investigator
  • Jail Correspondence
  • National Command and Staff

Certification may be available in your area and there also may be certain options that are different from the above mentioned.

Some certifications can be done online and others you will need to take classes in person to complete.

Speak to your local government to learn more about what certifications you can achieve and how to get them.

Job Outlook

Over the next ten years, we should see a demand for Sheriffs going up regularly.

By the year 2029, we should see more than 72,000 new Sheriff job openings all across the country.

This could be due to retirements of older Sheriffs as well as those leaving the force or becoming injured in the line of duty.

Expect to see an increase in job openings for Sheriffs at about 6.26 percent in the next decade across the United States.

Larger cities and those with more crime will likely need Sheriffs at a higher rate than smaller towns throughout the country.

Should You Become

Overall Satisfaction

Working as a Sheriff is a stressful job that can often be overwhelming for those who do not have the right mindset.

The hours are long and the adrenaline can get pumping, so make sure that you are the right person for the job before pursuing this career.

Commonly, a Sheriff will be overworked, however, the pay is good, and helping others are benefit of this career.

People who are of good physical and mental stability will do best in the career of a Sheriff.

Average Salary

The salary of a Sheriff is quite nice in the United States, with the average wage being close to $119,063 per year.

This comes down to an hourly salary of $57.

Just starting in the career means that you will likely make less than that, around $106,359 typically, which is about $51 per hour.

However, after years of experience, education, and knowledge of the career, a Sheriff at the top of their field can make over $132,877 each year.

Job Growth Outlook

Because there will likely always be criminals committing crimes, a Sheriff’s work is never done.

In fact, over the next ten years, we should see a rise in the need for Sheriffs at a rate of about 6%.

Older Sheriffs leaving the workforce or finding other careers are a big factor in this increase as well as new job openings as cities become more populated.

Expect to see more need for Sheriffs in bigger cities or areas where there is a higher crime rate.

Education Duration

To begin your career in the police academy, you only need to have a high school diploma.

Training to become a police officer takes about six months to one year to finish.

This means that it takes experience on the job and years of service to become a Sheriff.

However, some Sheriffs want to complete higher education and go on to earn a bachelor’s degree.

This can take about four years of your time and may result in higher wages.

Personal Skills Needed

It takes quite a bit of physical stamina and mental stability to work as a Sheriff.

Those who enter this field have a lot of weight to carry on their shoulders and should consider having or learning many of these skills to succeed:

  • Communication
  • Public speaking
  • Attention to detail
  • Investigation knowledge
  • Understanding of laws
  • Dependability
  • First aid knowledge
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Devotion to your community
  • Compassion
  • Patience
  • Ability to work in a team
  • Moral character

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do you have to go to school to become a Sheriff?

Initially, all you need is a high school diploma to join the police academy.

Then, you will work in law enforcement and train for several years.

Having on-the-job knowledge is the best form of education to work as a Sheriff in most instances.

After many years of experience, it is possible to run for office and become the Sheriff.

Once you have established your career as a Sheriff, you may want to seek higher education, which can take another four years of your time.

How much money does a Sheriff make a year?

A Sheriff is one of the highest-paid employees in law enforcement.

Hourly, a Sheriff can make $57 on average, which adds up to $119,063 per year.

Expect to have a lower salary when you just begin your career as a Sheriff, typically about $51 per hour.

This comes out to $106,359 each year, which is still higher than many other careers in the same field.

Those who have more experience and time in the career may make up to $63 an hour, or $132,877 each year.

With experience and education, you could be among the highest-paid Sheriffs in the country.

What skills do you need to have to be a Sheriff?

There are certain criteria that a Sheriff must meet to be successful in this position.

First off, it is necessary to have some physical fitness and emotional intelligence.

Plus, you will want to commandeer others who may be criminals, suspects, or subordinates.

Other skills needed to work as a Sheriff include:

  • Computer knowledge
  • Attention to detail
  • Ability to gain information
  • Investigative knowledge
  • Organization
  • Dependability

Are Sheriffs in high demand?

Since there will always be crime, it is clear that Sheriffs will most likely be in high demand for the foreseeable future.

The crime rate plus older Sheriffs retiring from the force will create more jobs shortly.

Those who are seeking employment as a Sheriff will find about a 6% increase in job availability over the next ten years.

What kind of education do you need to be a Sheriff?

Once you have a high school diploma or GED, the education needed to become a Sheriff is mostly job-related.

This means that you will need to join the police academy and work as a police officer for several years before considering becoming a Sheriff.

Time in the field and hands-on knowledge will get you far in this career.

However, if you would like a leg up from the competition, earning a four-year bachelor’s degree is not a bad idea.

Chelsea Wilson

About Chelsea Wilson

Chelsea Wilson is the Community Relations Manager for Washington University School of Law’s distance learning LLM degree program, which provides foreign trained attorneys with the opportunity to earn a Master of Laws degree from a top-tier American university from anywhere in the world.

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