Sheriffs in the United States generally fall into three broad categories:
- Restricted service — provide basic court related services such as keeping the county jail, transporting prisoners, providing courthouse security and other duties with regard to service of process and summonses that are issued by county and state courts. The sheriff also often conducts public auction sales of real property in foreclosure in many jurisdictions, and is often also empowered to conduct seizures of chattel property to satisfy a judgment. In other jurisdictions, these civil process duties are performed by other officers, such as a marshal or constable. Examples are the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office in Pennsylvania and the New York City Sheriff's Office (a division of the NYC Department of Finance).
- Limited service — along with the above, perform some type of traditional law-enforcement function such as investigations and patrol. This may be limited to security police duties on county properties (and others by contract) to the performance of these duties in unincorporated areas of the county, and some incorporated areas by contract. One example is the San Francisco Sheriff's Department in California.
- Full service — The most common type, provide all traditional law-enforcement functions, including countywide patrol and investigations irrespective of municipal boundaries.
Note: There are two federal equivalents of the sheriff; the first is the United States Marshals Service, an agency of the Department of Justice. There are 94 United States Marshals, one for each federal judicial district. The U.S. Marshal and his or her Deputy Marshals are responsible for the transport of prisoners and security for the United States district courts, and also issue and enforce certain civil process.
The other is the Marshal of the United States Supreme Court who performs all court related duties for the Supreme Court of the United States.
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