Sheriffs protect lives and property. They gather facts and collect evidence of possible crimes. Their duties depend on the size and type of their organizations. A sheriff’s work can be physically demanding, stressful, and dangerous. Police officers, in general, have one of the highest rates of on-the-job injuries and fatalities.
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Sheriffs typically do the following:
The daily activities of sheriffs vary with their occupational specialty and whether they are working for a local or government agency. Duties also differ among federal agencies, which enforce different aspects of the law. Regardless of job duties or location, sheriffs at all levels must write reports and keep detailed records that will be needed if they testify in court.
Sheriff’s applicants usually must have at least a high school education or GED and be a graduate of their agency’s training academy. Many agencies require some college coursework or a college degree. Knowledge of a foreign language is an asset in many federal agencies and urban departments.
Candidates must be citizens of their country, must usually be at least 21 years old, have a driver’s license, and must meet specific physical qualifications. They may have to pass physical exams of vision, hearing, strength, and agility as well as competitive written exams. Previous work or military experience is often seen as a plus. Candidates typically go through a series of interviews and may be asked to take lie detector and drug tests. A felony conviction may disqualify a candidate.
Applicants usually have recruit training before becoming an officer. In large local police departments, recruits get training in their agency's police academy. In small agencies, recruits often attend a regional or state academy. Training includes classroom instruction in constitutional law, civil rights, state laws and local ordinances, and police ethics. Recruits also receive training and supervised experience in areas such as patrol, traffic control, and use of firearms, self-defense, first aid, and emergency response.
Regional and local agencies encourage applicants to continue their education after high school by taking courses or training related to law enforcement. Many applicants for entry-level police jobs have taken some college classes, and a significant number are college graduates. Many junior colleges, colleges, and universities offer programs in law enforcement or criminal justice. Many agencies offer financial assistance to officers who pursue these or related degrees.
Sheriffs’ work can be physically demanding, stressful, and dangerous.. In addition to confrontations with criminals, sheriffs need to be constantly alert and ready to deal appropriately with a number of other threatening scenarios.
They regularly work at crime or accident scenes and other traumatic events as well as deal with the death and suffering that they encounter. Although a career in law enforcement may take a toll on their private lives, many officers find it rewarding to help members of their communities.
The jobs of some federal agents require extensive travel, often on short notice. These agents may relocate a number of times over the course of their careers. Some special agents, such as those involved in border patrol, may work outdoors in rugged terrain and in all kinds of weather.
The median annual wage of sheriffs was $55,010 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $32,440, and the top 10% earned more than $88,870.