Wikipedia has this to say about Sheriffs:

In the United States of America, the scope of a sheriff varies across states and counties. The sheriff is always a county official, and serves as the arm of the county court. The sheriff always performs court duties such as administering the county jail, providing courtroom security and prisoner transport, serving warrants, and serving process. In urban areas a sheriff may be restricted to those duties. Many other sheriffs and their deputies may serve as the principal police force.

As such, is there any difference between a Sheriff and any other officer in charge of county police (the above quote seems to imply the reporting difference, e.g. one would report to the court and one to the county administration)?

Or is the difference merely in whether the post was called "Sheriff" historically in a given locale but with no functional distinction?

  • Are you asking what is the difference between the Sheriff (elected official, chief executive of county law enforcement) and a deputy (in charge of county law enforcement), or are you asking the difference between a Sheriff/deputy and a city police officer?
    – user1873
    Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 19:24
  • @user1873 - I think there are some counties (random example: Queens, NY) that don't contain sheriffs. I'm asking if there is something special about county-level police in those counties vs. the sheriffs, aside from the name.
    – user4012
    Commented Feb 17, 2013 at 22:41
  • 1
    Sherriff is usually an elected position where most often Chief of Police is an appointed one. Commented Feb 19, 2013 at 1:05
  • Queens County is an anomalous situation, only because of the odd administrative structure of New York City. Usually, counties are a higher level of government than cities and towns, covering a larger geographical area and containing cities and towns. New York City, however, contains five counties. Because it would be weird and inefficient to have five sheriff's offices, there is one sheriff's office that has the entire city as its jurisdiction. Because the city also has a police department, the sheriff's office has fairly specialized responsibilities.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 2:47

3 Answers 3


The normal difference is that Sheriff is usually an elected position. As the highest law enforcement officer in the county, the Sheriff either has subordinates report to him (Deputy Sheriff) or is a higher authority than other law enforcement.

In the United States, a sheriff is generally, but not always, the highest law enforcement officer of a county. A sheriff is in most cases elected by the population of the county. The sheriff is always a county official and may serve as the arm of the county court (but these may be called marshals). The scope of a sheriff varies across states and counties.

Although, this varies from county to county.

Missouri has a county that eliminated the position of elected sheriff in 1955; the St. Louis County Police Department has an appointed police chief that performs the duties of the sheriff. Colorado has two counties that have appointed sheriffs rather than elected officials like the other 62 counties. Denver and Broomfield are city-and-county entities, which are required to have and/or perform a sheriff function. Denver's "sheriff" is the manager of safety, who is appointed by the mayor to oversee the fire, police and sheriff departments and is the ex officio sheriff.

  • A sheriff has more power is his county than a governor has in the state. He answers to no one but those that elected him in his county. It is his duty to uphold the constitution.
    – paulj
    Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 18:46

A good example of what you are looking for is from the City & County of San Francisco. They have both a Sheriff's Department - led by a democratically elected Sheriff overseeing a department of over 850 uniformed deputies and civil staff members and a Police Department led by the Mayoral appointed Chief of Police.

According to the SFSD Wikipedia page the Sheriff's Department has 4 internal divisions that cover some of the duties you mention in your question but others as well:

Administrative & Program Division (training, in-jail job training and education, Prisoner legal services, community programs, etc.)

Custody Division (Overseeing the county jails, security of county run hospitals - SF General & Laguna Honda, I.D. Processing, etc.)

Field Support & Services Division (Providing Security for City & County Admin Buildings and Officers, Investigation Unit, K-9 unit, emergency response and special response team, etc.)

Management Division (Sheriff's department administration, financial department, public information, etc)

On the other hand, there is San Francisco Police Department - led by the Chief of Police. The SFPD serves as the main law enforcement arm of San Francisco and maintains many other specific functions (see their Wikipedia page for more detail)

So you can see, though SFPD and SFSD both function in the same jurisdiction and are subject to the same large budgetary process, their functions and purviews are quite different.


In Texas, peace officers have statewide jurisdiction (whether municipal police or deputies), so the real difference between them is the size of the area they are responsible for patrolling, and the responsibility of running the jail.

The state capitol, Austin, has the Austin police and the Travis county sheriff's office, as well as some smaller municipal agencies. APD responds to 911 calls and patrols within the city proper, while Travis county sheriff's deputies respond to 911 calls and patrol generally in the unincorporated areas of the county. It should be noted though that the city proper is also part of the county, and thus the responsibility of the sheriff, though it is delegated to the chief of the Austin police department to police.

Because Texas is a statewide jurisdiction for peace officers, there is a lot of overlap, and any commissioned and licensed peace officer can make any arrest anywhere for any violation of the law within the state, though taking law enforcement action outside your area of responsibility is generally frowned upon for minor violations.

  • Welcome to Politics.SE. While informative, your post does not appear to answer the OP's question. Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 19:05

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