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The sheriff commonly acts as the highest law enforcement officer of the county. The citizens of the county elect the sheriff. Sheriffs usually serve four-year terms. Although in a few states, sheriffs serve for two, three, and six-year terms. Each state has its required qualifications for a person to become sheriff. The list of qualifications may vary from state to state. 

An elected sheriff is the head of the county’s Office of the Sheriff. The Office of the Sheriff is independent and not subordinated to any other county governing body. Therefore, sheriffs are accountable to citizens of their jurisdiction and not to any segments of the county’s government.

The functions and duties of a sheriff change depending on each state’s regulations. In some states, sheriffs may have broader law enforcement responsibilities than in others. For example, in Texas, sheriffs enforce the criminal law of the state, act as peace officers, manage and operate county jails, provide security for the courts, serve warrants and civil papers, and regulate bail bond agents in counties with no bail bond board. In New York, sheriffs are officers of the court whose primary duties are serving and executing legal processes and mandates issued by the state courts and the legal community. They also have some other criminal law enforcement and traffic patrol functions.

The only states without sheriffs are Alaska, Hawaii, and Connecticut.

[Last updated in July of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]