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Police Dept vs. Sheriffs Dept: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 13, 2023
Police departments enforce law within a city, while sheriff's departments oversee county law enforcement, often including managing county jails and court security.

Key Differences

Police departments are generally responsible for enforcing laws within city limits. Sheriff’s departments typically enforce laws across an entire county, providing a broader jurisdiction.
Police officers, operating under a police department, often focus on urban areas. In contrast, sheriff's deputies, from a sheriff’s department, can have duties ranging from patrolling rural areas to securing courts.
The leadership of a police department is usually determined by city officials. Conversely, sheriffs are typically elected by the voters of their respective counties, providing a distinct difference in leadership selection.
Police departments might not have a say in civil cases and certain civil processes. Sheriff's departments, on the other hand, are often responsible for serving civil process like evictions and protecting the courts.
While both entities are crucial for maintaining law and order, police departments are more localized, focusing on towns or cities. Sheriff's departments serve a wider area and have a range of responsibilities, including operating county jails.

Comparison Chart


Limited to city or municipal boundaries.
Spans the entire county, including cities within.

Leadership Appointment

Appointed by city officials.
Elected by the county’s voters.

Duty Scope

Primarily law enforcement within city limits.
Law enforcement, court duties, and jail management countywide.

Common Roles

Patrol, investigate, and enforce laws in cities.
Patrol, manage jails, secure courts, and serve civil papers.

Relationship to Courts

Limited interaction with court security/transport.
Often handle court security, prisoner transport, and process serving.

Police Dept and Sheriffs Dept Definitions

Police Dept

A police department is an organized civil force for maintaining order, preventing and detecting crime, and enforcing the laws.
The police dept responded swiftly to the emergency call.

Sheriffs Dept

Sheriff’s departments may be tasked with serving civil process and executing evictions.
The sheriff's dept was responsible for conducting the eviction.

Police Dept

Police departments often engage in community outreach to enhance relationships between citizens and law enforcement.
The local police dept hosted a community meet-and-greet event.

Sheriffs Dept

Sheriff’s departments are usually led by a sheriff, who is often an elected official.
The sheriff's dept was under new leadership after the recent election.

Police Dept

Police departments may have specialized units, such as K-9, SWAT, or cybercrime.
The police dept dispatched its SWAT team for the hostage situation.

Sheriffs Dept

A sheriff's department is a law enforcement agency that oversees safety, order, and law enforcement typically at the county level.
The sheriff's dept issued a warning about local scams.

Police Dept

Police departments typically have jurisdiction within specific municipal or city limits.
The crime occurred just outside the police dept's jurisdiction.

Sheriffs Dept

Deputies, who work under the sheriff’s department, often have duties that span across urban and rural areas.
Deputies from the sheriff's dept patrolled the remote areas of the county.

Police Dept

Members of a police department, known as police officers, usually focus on maintaining urban safety and order.
She aspired to join the police dept to make her city safer.

Sheriffs Dept

Beyond law enforcement, sheriff’s departments often manage county jails and court security.
The sheriff's dept recently updated the county jail facilities.


What is the primary jurisdiction of a police department?

The police dept usually has jurisdiction within specific city or municipal limits.

Do police departments manage jails?

Generally, police depts do not manage jails; this is commonly a role for the sheriff's dept.

How does a police dept interact with other law enforcement agencies?

Police depts often collaborate with other agencies, such as sheriff's depts, for crime prevention and public safety.

How are sheriffs typically selected?

Sheriffs, leading the sheriff's dept, are usually elected by the county’s voters.

Can a sheriff’s department enforce laws in cities within a county?

Yes, the sheriff's dept usually has jurisdiction across the entire county, including its cities.

What are the typical duties of a police officer?

Police officers, under a police dept, often patrol, investigate crimes, and enforce laws within cities.

Do sheriff’s departments engage in traffic control and patrols?

Yes, the sheriff's dept typically engages in road patrols and traffic enforcement across the county.

Can a police department enforce laws outside its city?

Generally, police depts enforce laws within their designated city or municipality and not beyond those limits.

Are the sheriff’s departments more prevalent in rural or urban areas?

Sheriff's depts operate in both urban and rural areas of a county, providing a wide range of services.

What is the role of a sheriff’s department in court matters?

The sheriff's dept often handles court security, prisoner transport, and serving court processes.

Who appoints the leader of a police department?

The leader, often a Chief of Police, is typically appointed by city officials.

How do sheriff's deputies differ from police officers in duty scope?

Sheriff's deputies often have wider duties, including court security and civil process serving, unlike city police officers.

Does the sheriff's dept have specialized units like SWAT or K-9?

Yes, larger sheriff's depts may have specialized units such as SWAT, K-9, and marine patrol.

Is community policing a part of a police department’s role?

Yes, many police depts engage in community policing to build better relations with the local populace.

Are the police departments involved in civil case processes?

Police depts usually have limited involvement in civil processes, which is often handled by the sheriff’s dept.

Do police departments handle civil disputes and evictions?

Police depts might respond to disputes but serving civil papers and handling evictions is usually a sheriff’s dept duty.

Is the sheriff's department responsible for managing county jails?

Yes, managing county jails is typically one of the responsibilities of the sheriff's dept.

Can the sheriff’s department impose city ordinances?

Sheriff's depts usually enforce county and state laws and might enforce city ordinances if applicable.

Can the police dept be involved in electoral processes?

Police depts might provide security during elections but do not play a role in the electoral process.

Do police departments engage in search and rescue operations?

Yes, police depts may be involved in search and rescue operations within their jurisdiction.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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