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Law Enforcement Careers at the County Level

In many states, law enforcement jobs at the county level allow officers to work in small police agencies, developing strong community ties and professional rapport. Police jobs at the county level are not just reserved for patrol officers; they also include investigative deputies, corrections officers, and courthouse bailiffs. Some states have separate county police departments in addition to designated county sheriff's departments.

Sheriffs have been around since ancient England, where they enforced the laws of the king and court. Contemporary sheriffs' departments are charged with enforcing laws within the areas where local police departments have no coverage. County sheriff officers patrol on foot and in cars, boats, and aircraft, making arrests where necessary for violations of criminal law and vehicular codes. In cities where local police have overall jurisdiction, sheriffs are often assigned county courthouse duty.

Sheriffs may also enforce unpaid taxes or fines, seize property, perform civil arrests, help recover bodies of the deceased, work in auction units, games enforcement, or other divisions determined by the county.

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County Court Is In Session

Depending on the county, deputy sheriffs may provide transportation of inmates to courthouse appointments or serve ongoing positions as bailiffs. Bailiffs are charged with maintaining law and order within courthouse buildings. Not all sheriffs are assigned to jailer operations and corrections. County law enforcement officers may function as full-fledged police--enforcing laws, gathering forensic evidence, serving protection orders and notices, conducting investigations, or handling duties for the coroner's office.

Geographic jurisdictions may overlap. In some states, county sheriffs provide the vital link between state troopers (or highway patrols) and municipal police. In county corrections facilities, sheriffs or corrections officers are deputized with the responsibility of maintaining security at the jail. They may handle work assignments for inmates, oversee booking procedures, or search inmates for contraband.

Career Training for County Law Enforcement

Training requirements for county bailiffs, corrections deputies, and sheriff's officers vary by job title and location. General requirements include mandatory U.S. citizenship, holding a high school diploma or equivalent, a clean criminal record, vision correctable to 20/20, a valid driver's license, and a minimum of 45 college credits.

Candidates for county law enforcement jobs may also be required to pass an oral interview, a written exam, a background investigation, a polygraph test, a psychological screening, a medical evaluation, and a physical agility test. A college degree in criminal justice can prove an invaluable asset for job applicants.

Large counties may have their own career training programs, whether in-house or through a state-run police academy. State academies may grant law-enforcement certifications accredited by their in-state Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Councils. Courses generally include instruction in firearms, self-defense, high-speed pursuit, criminal and civil procedures, first aid, state and county laws, and physical training.

The county sheriff--the designated head of the county law enforcement agency--is traditionally an elected position; however, it may be filled by appointment. Sheriff's department officers usually enter at a designated employment level and rise by promotions after a probationary period and continuous service.

Because the work can be dangerous, county sheriff's deputies are often compensated at competitive wages similar to municipal police employees'. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the middle 50% of sheriff's deputies in the nation earned between $34,410 and $56,360 in 2006.

Nomenclature varies, but pay ranks generally reflect traditional police job titles, such as deputy, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain.

In addition to paid vacation, state and federal holiday pay, sick leave, and life insurance, those holding deputy sheriff, bailiff and corrections jobs are offered liberal pension plans. Some allow for early retirement at half pay after only 25 years of service.

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