Difference between Sheriff and Police

Key difference: Sheriff and Police, both are government officials who are required to maintain the law and order in a country. However, sheriffs are considered to be a higher authority than the police. Sheriffs are responsible for an entire county, whereas a police officer has control over a designated area or part of a town in a county or state.

Both, Sheriff and Police, are government officers who maintain the law and order in a city. They patrol the city and enforce laws for the citizens. However, in few countries, there are elected officials apart from police officers to perform this function of law enforcement. The reason 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 sometimes becomes difficult as different states have different responsibilities for sheriffs. This article helps to differentiate between the two officers. 

According to Wikipedia, a sheriff is a legal officer with a responsibility for maintaining law and order within a county. However, in practice, the specific combination of legal, political and ceremonial duties of a sheriff varies greatly from country to country.

The word ‘sheriff’ was derived from the term "shire reeve". It comes from an Old English concept, as it was referred to a royal official who was responsible for keeping peace throughout the county on behalf of the king. Nearly, all the countries in England were bestowed with a sheriff. The office of a sheriff is called as ‘Shrievalty’. Later in the century, this concept of ‘sheriffs’ was adopted by the United States and became a part of the law enforcement program.

Sheriffs exist in various countries with different responsibilities, which are required according to the given decree program of a country. In some countries, they act as administrative legal officers, who are considered similar to bailiffs in the Republic of Ireland, Australia, and Canada; their duties are expanded or reduced regarding certain provinces in a country. Also, sheriffs are court judges in Scotland. They conduct sessions in court regarding trails, bails, etc. and place judgment on the cases. There is a ceremonial position for sheriffs in countries like England, Wales and India.

In the United States of America, the scope of a sheriff varies across states and counties. The sheriff is most often considered as a county official, who serves as the arm of the county court. He is generally considered to be the highest law enforcement officer of a county. A sheriff is in most cases elected by the citizens of the county. The office may be called as ‘marshal’. In the Commonwealth City of Virginia, people have a sheriff's office that serves as the arm of the city court and jail. The sheriffs perform court duties. The duties may include functions such as administering the county or city jail, providing courtroom security and prisoner transportation, serving warrants and serving process. In urban areas, a sheriff may be restricted to perform such duties. Many sheriffs and their deputies are considered or serve only as the principal police force.

According to Wikipedia, ‘a police force is a constituted body of persons empowered by the state to enforce the law, protect property, and limit civil disorder.’ Their powers include the legitimized use of force. It was in the 18th century that the police force came into being from London; they were called as the Metropolitan Police Force of London.

The term police force is most commonly associated with police services of a state, which are permitted to exercise the power of that state within a defined legal area of responsibility. Police forces are often considered or known to be a separate group, which differs from the military or any other organizations that are involved in the defense of a state against foreign terrors. However, there are police officers working in military units, who are charged with public policing. They have limited jurisdiction. They patrol inside towns and cities to keep or maintain law and order. Comparing their duties to a sheriff, police officers have a limited reach in the law enforcement system of a country. They are usually required to report back to a higher official in the government.

Law enforcement only constitutes a part of policing activities. Policing includes an array of different activities for different situations, but the predominant ones are concerned with the preservation of order. In some societies, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, these activities were developed in the context of maintaining the class system and the protection of private property, among the upper and lower castes of the people. Also, there are few countries in the world that may suffer from police corruption.

Comparison between Sheriff and Police:





He is a legal officer with a responsibility for maintaining law and order for a county.

He is an official empowered by the state to enforce the law, protect property, and limit civil disorder.


He is the highest law enforcing officer of the state.

He is not the highest law enforcing officer of the state.


He is elected by the citizen.

He is a government official.


They control the entire county.

They control the given areas of town in a county.


They do not have limited jurisdiction.

They have a limited jurisdiction.


They have different responsibilities, according to different countries.

Their responsibilities are the same in most countries.

Image Courtesy: weekendamerica.publicradio.org, sellcell.com

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