Difference Between Sheriff and Police Officer

Sheriff vs Police Officer

The difference between a sheriff and a police officer lies in the responsibilities each bear and how each is chosen. We all are aware of the police department and the officers in this department that patrol the city for law enforcement. But, in some countries, there are other elected officials apart from police officers to perform this function of law enforcement. The purpose behind having a separate department for law enforcement is to enhance public safety and to promote law and order. The roles, duties, and functions of both sheriffs and police officers are clearly demarcated, and both cooperate with each other in crime control and investigation. The situation becomes piquant sometimes as different states have accorded different responsibilities to sheriffs. This article will highlight the differences between sheriff and police officers to remove confusion from the minds of common people.

Who is a Sheriff?

The word sheriff comes from the old English concept of shire reeve, who was a man who performed the duties of law enforcement in a district in England. Nearly, all counties in England end with shire even today. The word got smaller when it was adopted in US, and it became sheriff to denote a law enforcing officer. Sheriffs have been there in the US since pre-independence and were there to protect people and to promote law and order when there was no police department in place. A sheriff, who is an elected official, has the responsibility to look after a larger area such as a county or a state. A sheriff has the services of many deputies all of whom patrol outside towns and cities. They can, however, enter a city if they are performing their duties.It is not uncommon to see men from the office of the sheriff patrol the area to keep law and order. A sheriff is usually a multitasking officer as they are elected to areas that are out of the reach of normal police.

Difference Between Sheriff and Police Officer

If we look at other countries that hold the position sheriff, you will see that their duties vary. The sheriff in the present Australia has several duties. These duties include providing court security, enforcing arrest warrants, evictions, running the jury system, etc. In Canada, the main duty of the sheriff is to provide court bailiff services. Then, sheriff is more of a ceremonial position in countries such as England, Wales, and even India. In India, only Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai have sheriffs.

Who is a Police Officer?

Police officers are the normal law enforcement officers in any country. If we look at the history, it was in the 18th century that the world saw the first police force in place in London that was called the Metropolitan Police force in London. In the US, police officers have a limited jurisdiction, which is normally the city limits or the town where they are posted. Police officers perform a similar role as the sheriff, but inside towns and cities where there are fully fledged police departments. Police officers ensure public safety and do investigations relevant to criminal activities. They also make arrests when it is necessary. Especially, in large towns, police departments are huge with many departments under them. They have police officers who are specialized in different areas for different types of crimes such as homicide, narcotics, white-collar, riot police, etc.

 Sheriff vs Police Officer

What is the difference between Sheriff and Police Officer?

• In US, a sheriff is a police officer but not all police officers are sheriffs.

• A sheriff is the highest law enforcing officer in a county and is an elected official.

• The officers performing law enforcement duty from the office of a sheriff are called deputy sheriffs.

• Normally, sheriffs control rural areas where police department does not have reach or control.

• A sheriff is still an important official in countries as he is considered an arm of the county court. He has an important role to perform and is an arm of the police also in areas where police has limited reach.

• While police departments in large towns have different departments specializing in different types of crimes sheriff’s office is general for all crimes.

• Ranks in a sheriff office are sheriff, chief deputy, colonel, major, captain, lieutenant, sergeant, corporal, deputy or officer.

• Ranks in a police are chief/ commissioner, the captain, lieutenant, sergeant, detective, corporal, police officer. These are the ranks in US police force. These ranks can change a little according to the country.

• The duties of sheriffs vary according to countries. In countries such as India, England and Wales, sheriff is a ceremonial position. In countries such as Australia and Canada, sheriff duties are equal to the duties of a bailiff.

As you can see, there is some difference between sheriff and police officer. However, what we must remember is that both are law enforcement officers. Therefore, when facing some troublesome situation, a citizen can ask for help from either of the two.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Deputy sheriff, Mogollon, New Mexico in 1940 via Wikicommons (Public Domain)
  2. Chicago Police officer by Bmicomp (CC BY 2.5)