Since the ninth century, the office of sheriff is the "oldest continuing, non-military law enforcement entity in history," according to Sheriff Roger Scott, in "Roots: An Historical Perspective of the Office of Sheriff." While William Waters, the first elected sheriff in America, wouldn't recognize many of the tools and methods used by modern sheriffs, he would find the goals and responsibilities of the office remarkably similar.
The duties of a sheriff vary slightly from county to county and from state to state, but they share the mission of protecting the lives and property of all citizens in their jurisdiction. Sheriffs work to ensure a peaceful, safe and pleasant community for all residents by preventing or controlling crime with efficiency and compassion.
Maintaining Public Peace
Keeping the peace in the community may be the best known of the responsibilities of the sheriff's office. Whether it takes the form of answering emergency calls, patrolling neighborhoods and remote areas of the county or making traffic stops and writing citations, officers work to protect residents and their property, as well as visitors to the community, by enforcing local, state and federal laws.
Investigating Reported Crimes
As the highest elected law enforcement officer in the county, the sheriff takes on the responsibility of investigating reported crimes and bringing perpetrators into the justice system. While the deputies in the office may do the "feet on the ground" investigations, collect the evidence and interview victims, witnesses and suspects, as the administrator, the sheriff is tasked with making sure they have the resources they need to complete these tasks and to arrest the suspects, write the reports and testify in court.
Protecting the Court and Operating the County Jail
While most people know that the sheriff's office is charged with confining suspected and convicted criminals, many may be unaware that the sheriff also maintains the security and the decorum of the courtroom, providing bailiffs and officers to protect the judge, attorneys, victims and witnesses involved in the proceedings. His officers are also responsible for any emergency responses necessary in court, whether for quelling disturbances or calling for emergency medical teams.
Serving the Civil Process
In many cases, the sheriff and deputies also are responsible for serving warrants and other civil paperwork related to lawsuits and civil actions, such as divorces, guardianships or commitments, along with summons, subpoenas and injunctions.
- National Sheriffs' Association: "Roots" - An Historical Perspective of the Office of Sheriff
- North Carolina Sheriffs' Association: About the Association
- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook - Police and Detectives
- America.gov: U.S. Women Break New Ground as Sheriffs
- Middlesex County: Sheriff
- Clay County: Clay County Sheriff
- Levy County Sheriff's Office: Our Mission, Goals and Core Values
Pamela Martin has been writing since 1979. She has written newsletter articles and curricula-related materials. She also writes about teaching and crafts. Martin was an American Society of Newspaper Editors High School Journalism Fellow. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Teaching in elementary education from Sam Houston State University and a Master of Arts in curriculum/instruction from the University of Missouri.