NOTE: For this article about the office of sheriff, I will use the words “sheriff” and “sheriff’s deputy” and “deputy” interchangeably.
“The term “sheriff” is derived from the “shire reeves” of Anglo-Saxon England. They sometimes apprehended criminals, but their main job was in-person tax collection, threatening or doling out violence until they received a satisfactory sum — much of which they kept for themselves. That’s one reason England has eliminated all but their ceremonial duties. ‘They had a direct financial incentive in raising money because that’s how they were paid,’ Stoughton says. ‘That incentive problem is why the sheriff of Nottingham was a bad guy.’ ”
How many Sheriffs are there in the U.S.? 3,081 as of April 2018.
Are there states that do not have Sheriff’s Offices? Yes. Three states that do not have Sheriff’s Offices:
Alaska. No county governments.
Connecticut. Sheriffs have been replaced with a State Marshal System.
Hawaii. There are no Sheriffs in Hawaii but Deputy Sheriffs serve in the Sheriff’s
Division of the Hawaii Department of Public Safety.
What is the difference between a Sheriff and a Police Chief?
A Sheriff is generally (but not always) the highest, usually elected, law-enforcement officer of a county. Chiefs of Police usually are municipal employees who owe their allegiance to a city. Oftentimes, Chiefs are appointed by the Mayor of a city; or, they may be appointed by or subject to the confirmation of a Police Commission.
“A police chief may be fired by a mayor or town council for malfeasance or simply on a whim, but short of impeachment, there is usually no way to remove a sheriff — no matter the offense. ‘Police chiefs run for their office every day, in the sense that they’re at-will employees,’ says Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation, a research organization. ‘You can’t really fire a sheriff.’ ” [Those of us who’ve had some experience in politics know “you can’t really fire” a politician or bureaucrat either. It’s not good that police chiefs can be fired “on a whim” – or because they impeded the corruption of powerbrokers in the city. This is a meaningless statement, IMO.]
” ‘In many states, if the sheriff does something wrong, it’s not clear who’s supposed to do something about it, which means no one is going to do anything about it,’ says Mirya Holman, a political scientist at Tulane University who studies sheriffs. ‘A combination of large budgets and little information provides an environment where corruption is certainly possible, if not probable.’ ”
[Note: some sheriff’s departments are so chronically short of money they even send out requests to the taxpayers for donations. There is a high probability of bias in this person’s evaluation. The possibility is there, of course. Although it had nothing to do with money, I was recently threatened by a man who claims family ties to a couple of law enforcement agencies. Nothing was done except to tell him not to talk like that.]
Sheriffs are often involved in “civil forfeiture” cases, where private property is seized because its owner was convicted of or arrested for breaking a law. This power has been abused, so of course there has been opposition. Stop the abuse, not the practice, is my opinion. Criminals steal from the rest of us, and law enforcement departments incur sometime ridiculous costs trying to catch and convict them. They should not be allowed to keep the profits from their crimes. And those not convicted of a crime should not lose their property. Not even for inability to pay taxes.
“Most people would be surprised to know that the office of sheriff has a proud history that spans well over a thousand years, from the early Middle Ages to our own “high-tech” era … With few exceptions, today’s sheriffs are elected officials who serve as a chief law-enforcement officer for a county. Although the duties of the sheriff vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the sheriff’s office is generally active in all three branches of the criminal justice system: law enforcement, the courts and corrections … As the sheriff’s law enforcement duties become more extensive and complex, new career opportunities for people with specialized skills are opening up in sheriff’s offices around the country. Among the specialties now in demand are underwater diving, piloting, boating, skiing, radar technology, communications, computer technology, accounting, emergency medicine, and foreign languages (especially Spanish, French, and Vietnamese.)”
The world of law enforcement overall has grown much more complex, partly due to technology and partly due to the molten lava under the surface of our civilization – the stresses that have been building since about 1950. We now require, justly or not, wisely or not, much more from all our law enforcement officers than ever before. Consider just the court-related duties of the office of sheriff:
“In every state in which the office exists, sheriffs are responsible for maintaining the safety and security of the court. A sheriff or deputy may be required to attend all court sessions; to act as bailiff; to take charge of juries whenever they are outside the courtroom; to serve court papers such as subpoenas, summonses, warrants, writs, or civil process; to extradite prisoners; to enforce money decrees (such as those relating to the garnishment or sale of property); to collect taxes; or to perform other court-related functions.”
Somewhere along the line, “prisoners’ rights” seem to have become more important than citizens’ rights. One place this is evident is, paradoxically, in the jails. Municipal officers may have long shifts, but their contact with criminals is limited to questioning, maybe chasing, arresting, and booking them. Then they go home, or at least go back on duty. But sheriffs …
“Most sheriffs’ offices maintain and operate county jails, detention centers, detoxification centers and community corrections facilities such as work-release group homes and halfway houses. Sheriffs, and the jail officers under their authority, are responsible for supervising inmates and protecting their rights. They are also responsible for providing inmates with food, clothing, exercise, recreation and medical services.”
Really? Responsible for providing inmates with exercise? Recreation? Why? Both those objectives used to be accomplished with chain gangs, doing manual labor with shotgun-armed guards watching them. Those guards were expected to kill any prisoner who tried to escape.
Even in about 1975, I learned that some “low-risk” prison road crews were working without any shackles. No restraints at all. And “guarded” by a “trustee” – a fellow prisoner. I won’t repeat here the tragedy by which I learned of this. It happened to the family of a friend. I’ll just say that was the day I decided that there is no such thing as a low-risk prisoner.
Jail is not supposed to be educational, except in one sense: “If you violate the laws, we are going to make you much more miserable than you were before you landed in jail.” Jail is not supposed to help you turn yourself into a steroid monster so you can more easily prey on people when you get out.
Like all law enforcement officers, Sheriffs have lives. They have responsibilities which often keep them from exercising regularly, keep them tired. But they are supposed to ensure that the scum they help keep locked up have exercise equipment, high-protein food, time to exercise, etc. etc. And have plenty of time to plan their future crimes. Including revenge.
At one prison, inmates who were provided with weightlifting equipment rioted. Several (unarmed) guards were cut off from escape. They took refuge in a solidly-built room. The inmates used the barbells as battering rams, broke through the wall, and raped the guards.
Yesterday I spoke briefly with one former guard who was inline for promotion to sergeant. He made the mistake of telling the wacky-liberal jail administrator in an administration meeting, “Don’t be so sorry for these people. There’s a reason they are in here.” That was the end of his promotion chances.
That man told me, “I have seen the devil. I have seen him.” He was talking about one remorseless, merciless killer in particular whose crimes I won’t mention so the ex-guard and I can remain employed and more or less anonymous. But there are many like that in jails across America. They are what a well-seasoned law enforcement officer called “Feral Man”. No conscience. No heart. Deadly in a way most of us don’t even understand. Not bound by any rules of civilization or morality. Yet one sheriff was hounded like a criminal himself because he fed prisoners corn dogs, using the money he saved on food for another part of his responsibilities.
All in all, my experience with sheriff departments and deputies has been overwhelmingly positive. One deputy took it upon himself to explain the relevant law to me when I was facing an attempt at legal confiscation of my property. He warned me, “You are not required by law to talk to these people. They are not your friends.”
Joe Arpaio had the right idea for prisoners. Pink prisoner uniforms and army surplus tents. If a sheriff becomes corrupt, of course he should be dealt with, if possible. Otherwise, leave them alone and support them.
I haven’t heard much lately about the Oath Keepers, a group of sheriffs who vowed they would not enforce any unConstitutional laws. Although the founder of Oath Keepers described sheriffs as “America’s last hope”, the last I heard, there might have been several hundred sheriffs who supported the group’s ideals or were even members. I wish them luck, but the history of the US in the last 15 or so years has clearly shown an increase in federal power and immunity to consequences. Any sheriff who respects the US Constitution as the source of all legal authority in the US had better be careful. It is my opinion that journalists, private citizens, bureaucrats, and politicians who offend the federal government badly enough wind up committing suicide under suspicious circumstances. Under these conditions, we can’t expect three thousand law enforcement officers alone to save the nation, from anything. They have their plate full just dealing with crimes by individuals.