Sheriffs enforce local, state and national laws within a county. In most jurisdictions, the sheriff and his deputies patrol and provide law enforcement for the unincorporated areas outside of metropolitan areas. Deputies are the commissioned law enforcement officers tasked with administering police duties in these areas.
In the majority of U.S. counties, deputy sheriffs provide critical services like traffic enforcement, emergency response and criminal investigations. In order to be effective in these duties, deputies are required to successfully complete a lengthy and involved selection process and training program. It is possible to earn a position in the sheriff’s office without independent training, but these certification programs often provide valuable advice and preparation for the competitive processes involved in how to become a sheriff’s deputy.
Since requirements differ considerably from one sheriff’s department to the next, those interested in becoming deputy sheriffs are advised to verify specific qualifications. Most sheriffs’ departments expect applicants to satisfy the following deputy sheriff requirements.
- At least 18 years old
- Valid driver’s license
- U.S. citizenship
- High school diploma or GED (In some departments, some college credit is required)
- No felony convictions
- No recent DWI convictions
- No domestic violence convictions
- No recent misdemeanor convictions
Preparation and Qualification
There are two primary deputy sheriff requirements that all candidates must consider as they start looking at how to go about becoming a sheriff’s deputy:
- Strayer University - Bachelors of Science Degree in Criminal Justice
- Rasmussen College - Law Enforcement Associate's Degree and Post-Degree Certificates; Criminal Justice Bachelor's Degrees
- Michigan State University - Online Master of Science in Law Enforcement Intelligence and Analysis
- Saint Joseph's University - Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice
- Capella University - Online BS, MS and PhD Criminal Justice Degree Programs
- Utica College - Online Bachelor's of Science in Criminal Justice
Physical Ability – Sheriffs’ offices often require strength or dexterity tests, and many of the academies that deputies must attend maintain stringent physical standards at the time of entry and upon graduation. Trainees may be required to complete a long distance run, sprint, and a set of pushups or bench presses in order to graduate. Prospective deputies may attain peak physical condition through a variety of organizations including the military, independent training, or boot camps provided by schools or fitness facilities.
Sound Judgment and Mental Acuity – While most sheriffs’ departments only require a high school diploma or GED, many grant preference to those who have completed law enforcement certification programs, or degrees through community college or university programs in criminal justice. The broad responsibilities that many deputies must fulfill during their careers require breadth of knowledge that is most commonly cultivated through post-secondary education. Obtaining knowledge of the law, law enforcement concepts and police procedures is conducive learning how to become a sheriff’s deputy.
Application Process and Disqualifiers
The application process typically involves a number of steps. An application must be submitted to the sheriff’s office to initiate the process. The application must be completed accurately; any false information or incomplete answers can be grounds for termination of the application. Many departments also require submission of documents like college transcripts, documentation of honorable discharge and employer recommendations at the same time, so it is wise for candidates to coordinate the submission of all required paperwork.
Although the exact disqualifying traits vary from county to county, they usually include:
- Felony conviction
- Recent misdemeanor conviction
- Dishonorable discharge
- History of domestic violence
- Significant delinquent debt
- Recent history of drug use
- Alcohol abuse
- Serious traffic violations
Tests, Background Check, Psychological Evaluation and Polygraph
Most sheriffs’ departments assess candidates’ reading, writing and math skills through a standard written test. Many organizations will administer a physical exam that will evaluate stamina, strength and dexterity. An interview with senior officers or the sheriff is also required, followed by a psychological evaluation that determines a candidate’s ability to handle the rigors of law enforcement work.
A thorough background check is conducted to ensure that the information provided by the candidate is truthful and accurate. Among the many areas that a background investigation will examine are:
- Criminal record
- Employment history
- Military record
- College courses
- Past drug use
- Traffic violations
- Financial history
- Social relationships and reputation
A polygraph examination may also be administered to verify all information obtained through the background exam, interview and application form.
Training Through the Law Enforcement Academy
Candidates who earn a Conditional Offer of Employment must complete a basic training program at a state sanctioned police academy. In some states, recruits may be required to demonstrate some minimum physical standards to enter the academy, like running 1.5 miles within a period of time.
Upon receiving admission to the academy, new recruits are expected to enroll in an 18 to 24 week program that will combine the rigors of a military style boot camp with an intensive educational curriculum.
The physical training program includes:
- Arrest procedures
- Close combat
- Firearms training
- High speed driving /Pursuit tactics
- Challenging physical conditioning program
The classroom component typically includes:
- Constitutional law
- Organization history
- Search and seizures
- Traffic stops
- Report writing
- Witness questioning
Following graduation from the police academy, recruits are paired with a Field Training Officer. This probationary period may last several weeks or months, and is intended to provide a transition from academic preparation to active service.