Wednesday, January 05, 2005


Chihuly glass in the Columbus Conservatory

TalkLeft asks Do Cities Need Sheriffs? after a sheriff fires his predecessor's staff and posts snipers to keep them out.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution urges “Fire sheriffs. (Snipers not necessary)”:

Georgians should change their constitution to eliminate sheriffs in all metropolitan counties that also have police departments. Any competent police chief can appoint a jailer to run the detention facility. Of course, some deputies would have to be retained to serve warrants and supervise detainees. But several positions could be eliminated and piles of money saved.

There are lots of odd anachronisms in local law enforcement, but sheriffs have to be one of the odder bits of history.

The office of sheriff goes way back, which has lead to Patriot groups believing that Sheriffs are the only legitimate law enforcement (check out the mission statement of South Carolina's Civilian Special Operations Group Fox-Hound, this lovely story or In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest by David Neiwert). I previously noted Larry Pratt's nostalgia for the days when a sheriff could send a gang of vigilantes to bring someone to justice.

Consider this story from the Free Republic – Wyoming Sheriff Kicks Feds Out Of His County:

[Constitutionalist Sheriff] Mattis thoroughly believes the Feds have very limited powers in any state unless the local high-sheriff allows them to exercise power beyond that which the Constitution provides.

“Put another way,” Mattis said, “if the sheriff doesn't want the Feds in his county, he has the constitutional power and right to keep them out or ask them to leave.”

In the town where I grew up, we had the municipal police, the county police, the county sheriff, as well as assorted state and federal law enforcement. The county cops and the sheriff have different responsibilities, which you can learn about if you get past the copyright infringement on the county police homepage. Until now, I didn't know the difference, nor did I fully appreciate why there needed to be a municipal force, two county agencies, and the state police. In a county that has no unincorporated areas, it still isn't clear. Why shouldn't the bomb squad, jails, SWAT team, and crime labs be run by the state, and process serving, and court security be farmed out to local law enforcement (perhaps rotating among the towns)?

In Douglas County, Kansas, there is unincorporated land, so the sheriff has a job. Why the Kansas Bureau of Investigation has to be separate from the State Police isn't clear, but their responsibilities don't overlap entirely. But why not have state police patrol unincorporated areas? Why not let resources be better aggregated and easily shifted to suit local needs? When did counties become sovereign?

Outside of whacko constitutionalist circles, I think that streamlining law enforcement bureaucracy would be popular. Let's have a movement to shift critical functions from the generally unaccountable county government to the more easily supervised municipal and state governments. This reduces the number of options for corruption by superfluous layers of government while generating clarity in the practice of law enforcement.