History Of The Sheriff's Office


Wyatt Earp
Picture courtesy of KPBS

In the United States, a sheriff is generally, but not always, the highest law enforcement officer of a county. A sheriff is in most cases elected by the population of the county. Except for New York City the sheriff is always a county official and may serve as the arm of the county court. The office may be called "marshal." The scope of a sheriff varies across states and counties. In some states the sheriff is officially titled "High Sheriff", although the title is rarely used. In urban areas a sheriff may be restricted to court duties such as administering the county jail, providing courtroom security and prisoner transport, serving warrants, and serving process. Sheriffs may also patrol outside of the city or town limits, or inside by agreement with the city; in these areas, sheriffs and their deputies serve as the principal police force.


The political election of a person to serve as a police leader is chiefly an American tradition. The practice has been followed in the British Channel Island of Jersey since at least the 16th century. A sworn law enforcement officer working for a sheriff is called a "sheriff's deputy", "sheriff's officer", or something similar, and is authorized to perform the sheriff's duties. In some states, a sheriff may not be a sworn officer, but merely an elected official in charge of sworn officers. These officers may be subdivided into "general deputies" and "special deputies". In some places, the sheriff has the responsibility to recover any deceased persons within their county, in which case the full title is "sheriff-coroner". In some counties, the sheriff's principal deputy is the warden of the county jail or other local correctional institution.


In some areas of the United States, the sheriff is also responsible for collecting the taxes and may have other titles such as tax collector or county treasurer. The sheriff may also be responsible for the county civil defense, emergency disaster service, rescue service, or emergency management. Source

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