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Why do counties still elect sheriff’s, anyway?

Sheriffs have long been a part of our country's history, dating back to colonial times and our ties with England. As these law enforcement officers became embedded into our society, they transformed into an expected and accepted role within most communities.

Today, most counties across the country have a sheriff's department. The role of sheriff itself can be largely ceremonial, but the department is often responsible for enforcing the law, monitoring the jail system and processing paperwork. 

A series of recent scandals have left many experts wondering, are sheriffs still a necessary part of law enforcement?

The current role of the sheriff

The role of the sheriff in any given county will vary based on the state. For the most part, a sheriff is a constitutional officer, and most counties will have a sheriff's department. The sheriff's department often works in cooperation with the local police departments that fall within the county lines. It's important to note that a sheriff is an elected official, compared to police chief positions which are often appointed by the head of the local government. The sheriff serves at the pleasure of the voters, and there's little oversight from other governmental leaders.

Corruption and scandal at the sheriff’s department

The fact that politics play a major role in who is elected to be the sheriff means that this department is often linked with corruption and scandal. In many counties across the country, the size of the sheriff's department continues to grow, despite the fact that the responsibilities for these officers seems to dwindle with each passing year. In addition, there are increasing reports of abuse and discrimination that stem from these departments. For example, according to The Appeal, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has about 18,000 employees, including about 9,000 deputies and another 9,000 staff members serving in various capacities. The department often goes unchecked by government officials, and there are frequently reports of gang-like groups of deputies who inflict emotional and physical abuse on prisoners.

What is the solution?

It seems there's no clear-cut solution when it comes to this politically-linked governmental department. The sheriff is an elected official, and incumbents have a significant shot at getting re-elected due to name recognition. There is no board that can remove the sheriff. So, some are beginning to propose that the office is eliminated entirely. Of course, this would be a complex process. In most cases, the state constitution outlines the requirements for a sheriff's department. That means that an amendment to the state constitution would be needed in order to eliminate the department. Voters would have to approve any proposed amendment. It's unlikely that these offices will start to be eliminated in the near future, but many experts feel it is the best way to deal with the corruption that seems to stem from them.

Those who are accused of crimes are facing enough legal battles, they do not need to be worrying about the corruption that may be brimming beneath the surface of the local sheriff's department. Is eliminating the sheriff the solution? Only time will tell. In the meantime, if you have been accused of a crime, you will want to make sure that you hire a criminal defense attorney who will advocate for your rights. Contact us today, and we will help you chart a legal course forward that will keep your rights at the forefront of the case.

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