Joseph Libowsky,
former Special Agent

If you are looking for a job in law enforcement it is not sufficient only to check the law enforcement job openings. It is a good idea to get familiar with the different ranks and possibilities for growth within a department as well as with how much a law enforcement officer makes. You also need to be aware that the selection process is neither simple, nor quick, so be prepared to pass several tests and examinations in order to compete and be selected for the job.

sheriff ranks and salaries list

One of the possible career paths in law enforcement is to join the sheriff’s department in a county. If this is the possibility you are looking for, then acquiring some more knowledge about the different ranks and expected salary will be of great use to you. The guide below outlines the ranks in a sheriff’s department, as well as those for police departments in the United States. You will also get an idea about the salary you can expect to earn.

The Ranks in the Sheriff’s Department

The duties in the Sheriff’s department are divided between various ranks.

  • Deputy or officer is the starting rank within a sheriff’s department. In order to start work as such you need to pass an initial training program. You will have general duties that include patrolling streets and/or highways, and working in the jail;
  • Corporal is the next step in the hierarchy. To be promoted as one you need some experience as a deputy or officer. As a corporal you have some responsibility over the officers but not necessarily a supervisory role;
  • Sergeant is the first major promotion available to the law enforcement officers in the Sheriff’s department. Your role will be to supervise corporals and deputies and participate in their further training. To be promoted as a sergeant you need to have good communication and leadership skills;
  • Lieutenant is the first senior officer in the department. The promotion includes increased responsibilities such as supervision of the officers with lower ranks and reporting directly to the captain of the division you are in;
  • To be the Captain in the Sheriff’s department means that you are in charge of a given division, such as criminal investigation, patrol, etc. You are responsible for the entire personnel in your department, as well as for recruiting new officers. You report to and assist your majors with their duties whenever needed;
  • Major is a top-management position in the department. You are in charge of several divisions and need to report to the higher ranks;
  • Colonel is the next step after a major. In some departments this rank does not exist, so it can be said that the duties of a colonel and major overlap to some extent. In larger departments, there are several colonels who are supervising different departments headed by majors;
  • The Chief Deputy Sheriff is the highest rank to which you can be appointed. Your responsibility is to monitor the overall operations of the department and supervise the staff and to report directly to the Sheriff. In some cases, the Chief Deputy is referred to as undersheriff;
  • The Sheriff is the highest law enforcement officer in the county. The sheriff is elected for the position and their duties include maintaining county jails, policing unincorporated areas, serving warrants and court papers and providing security to courts in the county. In some areas the Sheriff may also be responsible for evictions or seizing property upon court orders. The term of service varies throughout the states with the most popular being 4 years as it is in 42 states. There is a three-year term in New Jersey, two-year term in Arkansas and New Hampshire and a six-year term in Massachusetts. There are no sheriffs in Alaska and Connecticut. As an elected and sworn law enforcement officer, the sheriff is accountable directly to the constitution of their state, the United States Constitution, statutes and the citizens of their county.

Salary range within the Sheriff’s department

When looking for a job, one of the factors that influence our decision, beside career growth, is the salary we are going to receive. So, if you are planning to work in a Sheriff’s department, here is an idea of what salary you can expect. Keep in mind that there are differences between the departments and the states.

The figures given as per the information submitted on Pay Scale show that the starting salary for a deputy or officer is median $43,270, ranging from $30,270 to $74,086.

The amounts given by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2016 are a bit higher, showing a median wage of $59,680. According to their statistics the highest paying states are California and New Jersey, while the highest concentration of jobs in the sphere (police and sheriff’s patrol officers) are in the District of Columbia and Mississippi. New York and Los Angeles are the metropolitan areas that offer the highest employment level for this occupation.

The highest position that you can occupy is that of the Sheriff itself. As such you can expect to receive a median pay of $102,705 (according to the data as of October 30, 2017) as per the information provided on The range given is between $96,980-$108,940.

Naturally, your salary will increase with each promotion to a higher rank, along with your responsibilities. Below you will find some more information on which factors can influence an increase in salary.

Salary tiers and promotions

Normally, the salary in each department depends on the rank and years of service of the individual officer as well as on some additional factors such as training, education, special skills, etc. Here is some information about the salary tiers that you can expect:

  • Training salary – since training is very important for the implementation of the duties at a Sheriff’s department, recruits do receive a pay reflective of the time they spent at the police academy;
  • Entry-level salary – the starting salary for each rank is usually the minimum paid within the department. It is usually adjusted in accordance with the duties the officer has;
  • Promotions – often there is a step structure of promotions and salary increases within a sheriff’s department. Naturally, there is a salary increase if you are promoted to a higher rank, however there can be several minor increases in the salary prior to that. This can be due to time served, excellence at the job or as a result of reviews by supervisors;
  • Retirement process – there can be a limit on the number of years an officer can serve in a Sheriff’s department. Due to the obligations and difficulties of the law enforcement career, the retirement benefits are quite high and the pension can be as high as 50% of the final salary awarded. Some departments continue to provide health and life insurance in some form even after retirement.

Factors that influence the Sheriff’s salary

There are three main external factors that influence the salary you may receive as a law enforcement officer working in the Sheriff’s Department and even lead to a better rank. These are education, law enforcement experience, and military experience and here is why:

  • Education – if you have completed an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree program it means that you have advanced skills and knowledge about communication, law enforcement subject or critical thinking, which will help you better perform your duties. Therefore, the sheriff’s office is willing to pay a bonus to such employees. In some cases, the departments even offer to reimburse tuition fees and offer flexible working time to officers who decide to study part time.
  • Law Enforcement Experience – if you have have experience as a law enforcement those skills and training are valuable to the agency you are applying with. This can include a bonus and/or a higher starting salary.
  • Military experience – if you are a veteran who has served in the military your experience will be much valued, especially as a deputy sheriff. No matter if you have actual combat experience or no, you have acquired many qualities to help you deal with potentially violent confrontations that may occur while on duty. Besides, veterans are used to taking orders from superiors and know how to serve in a unit. Quite often you will receive a bonus to your salary if you have previous military experience.

Police ranks in the USA

One of the most popular jobs in law enforcement is that of the police officer. It gives great opportunity for growth both in vertical and horizontal hierarchy. Most of the officers wear uniforms, however the detectives, who are also part of the police ranking, are plain-clothes law enforcement officers. There is also the special K-9 unit, where the officers are also dog handlers and perform more specific duties than the standard policemen/policewomen. They undergo special training on how to work with and take care of the dog and receive some additional payment for their duties as well.

Now, the general police ranking in the USA starts from police officer, who is at the bottom of the hierarchy. Common names for the job are officer, patrol officer, deputy, and trooper. A regular officer wears no rank insignia. It is important to note that the pay varies within this rank as well as between the different states. In order to advance on the ladder, each officer needs to take specific exams as well as prove certain years of service at each rank before moving to the next.

The following rank is that of the detective, also referred to as inspector or investigator. These officers work in plain clothes and are in charge of investigating crime scenes, murders or drug offences. They usually have more years of experience than the ordinary police officers.

The ranks that follow in the hierarchy afterwards are:

  • Sergeant – supervises an entire watch shift
  • Lieutenant – supervises two, three or more sergeants
  • Capitan – supervises a division or unit and often an entire police station
  • Major (deputy inspector) – supervises a police station
  • Colonel is a senior executive rank also referred to as “superintendent,” “commissioner” or “director”
  • Inspector or commander – commands divisions, which may be groups of precincts within a borough or specialized branches of the police service
  • Deputy Chief of Police or Assistant Commissioner or Assistant Superintendent – there can be several deputy chiefs in the bigger departments
  • Chief of Police or Police Commissioner or Superintendent – to become one, you must be appointed by the mayor of the city you live in. The term Chief of Police is used mainly for large metropolitan departments, while Chief of Police is the term used for medium and small municipalities.

Ranks within state law enforcement

State law enforcement officers are often a part of the state’s Department of Public Safety. They are often based on the military model and have very strict training procedures. The officers are usually referred to as the state patrol, highway patrol, or state troopers. They are responsible for enforcing the laws throughout the entire state.

The ranks of the state law enforcement officers vary depending on the agency they work for but the general model follows the military rankings. This means that you start the job as a trooper, then you proceed to trooper first class, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, major, lieutenant colonel, until you reach the top rank of colonel.

Federal level of law enforcement

The federal level of law enforcement is represented by several agencies, which have specific ranking and requirements for their officers. Here is a list of the most common federal agencies that you can apply with, in case you are interested in pursuing career in this sphere:

  • United States Border Patrol
  • United States Capitol Police
  • Drug Enforcement Administration
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
  • United States Park Police
  • United States Marshals Service
  • United States Secret Service
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation

Make sure to check the specific requirements, ranking and salary opportunities each agency offers prior to applying.