City police departments represent the vast majority of the nation's local law enforcement agencies, but county sheriff's departments also cover wide territories and have varying responsibilities.
There are roughly 3,000 sheriff's offices or departments in the U.S. In many cases, a sheriff is an elected official who serves as the chief law enforcement officer in a county. Not every state has local sheriffs, and the duties of a sheriff can differ greatly from county to county depending on long-standing agreements with other law enforcement agencies in the area.
A county sheriff's office or department might be responsible for patrolling and responding to crime in the unincorporated areas of a county or will enter into a contract with a city or town to handle law enforcement duties in their jurisdiction. Elsewhere, a county sheriff's office or department in a major city might be responsible for overseeing inmates at the county jail and transferring defendants to and from court.
In some cases, a county sheriff's office or department may simply provide security at the local courthouse.
The FBI encourages all local law enforcement agencies with sworn officers who have arrest powers to file hate crime reports. That applies to most county sheriff's offices and departments. As a result, these agencies regardless of responsibilities were included in the analysis of hate crime reporting conducted by The Associated Press.