Sheriff or Police Officer: Career Info

Oct 20, 2021

A police officer and sheriff impose laws and provide overall protection to the community. Requirements vary by the district, but most officers need a high school diploma or GED, academy training, and sometimes college work, in addition to passing a physical exam.

Essential Information

Sheriffs and police officers both enforce laws, although they do so at different levels. These professionals need at least high school educations and are usually required to complete basic training programs. Because law officers may need to react quickly to ensure public safety, these careers may appeal to individuals who are physically fit and can work well under pressure.

Required Education Varies by state; high school diploma typically required, though completion of a degree program in law enforcement or criminal justice may be beneficial
Other Requirements Completion of the 12-14 week training is required. Candidates must pass medical, physical fitness, and written exams, as well as a criminal background check.
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)* 6%
Median Salary (2020)* $65,540

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Law Officer Career Overview

Police officers and sheriffs ensure public safety by enforcing laws and investigating crimes. State and local law-enforcement agencies generally employ them, although opportunities are available with federal agencies. Police officers are usually assigned to certain districts, while sheriffs work at the county level. Law enforcement personnel may endure a great deal of stress in their careers. They may also serve as more specialized officers, such as fish and game wardens or special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team members.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that police and sheriff's patrol officers are expected to see job growth faster than the average through 2029 ( In May 2020, the BLS reported that police and sheriff's patrol officers in the 90th percentile or higher earned $109,040 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $38,420 or less per year.

Job Duties

Sheriffs and police officers respond to emergency calls in order to prevent, thwart or investigate criminal activity. They patrol areas, monitor traffic and penalize citizens for regulation violations, as well as participate in various court activities. Police officers may provide testimony, and sheriffs could serve court documents or supervise proceedings to ensure order.

Law Officer Requirements

Each state and jurisdiction sets its own requirements for attaining employment as a police officer or sheriff. In general, applicants must be U.S. citizens and at least 21 years old. They must also pass physical fitness and medical exams, criminal background checks and written exams.


The educational requirements for police officers and sheriffs also vary according to each state. The BLS reports that they typically must have high school diplomas, and agencies may require at least some college education. Many colleges offer degree programs in law enforcement, criminal justice and other relevant disciplines. Classes typically include emergency response, patrolling, traffic law, criminal investigations and ethics.

Basic Training

Before new hires are put to work, they must first attend a training academy. Training usually lasts between 12 and 14 weeks and includes classroom and hands-on instruction in first aid, firearms, investigations, sobriety testing, law-enforcement procedures and self-defense tactics.

Police officers and sheriffs generally go through the same training and require the same education. The main distinction is that sheriffs work at the county level while officers work in cities and towns. Law officers may also be specialized in one area, whereas sheriffs may have broader responsibilities.

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