The Sheriff is an elected county official who is the county's chief law enforcement officer. In
Historically, the beginnings of the Powers of the Sheriff began in Anglo-Saxon England prior to the Viking and Norman invasions. Anglo-Saxon communities were organized in groups of ten. Towns, or as they were called by the Anglo-Saxons, Tuns, were divided into family groups of ten, called a Tithing. Each Tithing elected a leader, referred to as a Tithingman. These groups of Tithings were then grouped together in tens and elected a leader too, called a Gerefa, which later became the title, Reeve. This was one of the earliest forms of self-government by "the People."
Alfred the Great (AD 871-901), King of the Anglo-Saxons during the Viking invasion, organized the lands and Tuns into Shires and appointed a Reeve to maintain law and order within the Shire. To distinguish between the two Reeves, the more important official was referred to as the Shire-Reeve.
Although Reeves and Shire Reeves were tasked with maintaining law and good order, the King and leaders expected everyone to "keep the peace." Each person had a duty to not only obey the laws, but to catch law breakers and bring them before the court or the Reeves. Citizens that saw someone commit a crime would "hue and cry,” summoning fellow citizens to assist in the apprehension of a criminal who has been witnessed in the act of breaking the law. Thus the common law principle, the power of Posse Commitatus, was established for the Sheriff.
As time passed, kings and noblemen, assumed more and more power over government. Soon, the people of the Tuns and Shires lost even the power of electing their own leaders. The King and his nobles would appoint their own Reeves. In 1066, William of Normandy, invaded Anglo-Saxon England and defeated the Saxon King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. After this the
Over the next hundred years, more and more power was centralized under the Crown, until even the nobles themselves rebelled. In AD 1215, King John was forced to recognize basic Rights and Freedoms by signing the Magna Carta, a precursor to our United States Constitution. The Magna Carta, a document securing Rights and Freedoms, mentions the office of Sheriff no less than nine times signifying its importance. By the 1300s, the powers of the Sheriff included not only being the chief executive, administrator, and tax collector, but also a judge and leader of the local militia of the county.
During the next two hundred years, the Sheriff was still responsible for maintaining law and order, collecting the King's taxes, but additionally had to serve as a type of ambassador for visiting dignitaries. Although the Sheriff was an important office, few sought it. If the Sheriff didn't collect the required amount of taxes, he had to make up the difference out of his own wealth. As for playing the part of the host, the Sheriff had to personally provide lavish entertainment for his guests. Many capable and experienced men quietly attempted to avoid holding the office. However, if chosen, one had a duty to serve!
The Office of Sheriff was exported to English Colonies, beginning first in
The American Office of Sheriff has retained many of its powers from its English common law beginnings. However, Sheriffs were given the added responsibilities of maintaining a county jail and being officers of the courts.
Today, the Office of the Sheriff is a vital part of county government in