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What Does a Sheriff Do?

Lainie Petersen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The duties of a sheriff vary by the jurisdiction in which he operates. Although sheriffs are always legal officials, their powers and functions vary widely. In the United Kingdom, for example, their duties may be largely ceremonial in some areas, though in Scotland they act as judges. Throughout the United States, this official is typically the chief law enforcement official within a county and may assume both administrative and policing duties in accordance with county ordinances. County sheriffs assume responsibility for the management of both criminal and civil cases, often facilitating procedures necessary to due process.

Within the United States, sheriffs are typically elected officials. Their role in county government is typically defined in legal statutes, but they will usually have the power to arrest and detain suspects, investigate crimes, and patrol the county. The legal system within a county may also rely greatly on their management and leadership. For example, the sheriff's staff will typically assume security duties at a county courthouse and may also be responsible for maintaining the county jail.

Unlike local police, who are primarily concerned with the prevention and investigation of criminal behavior, sheriffs within the United States often take a significant role in the processing of civil cases. For example, when someone files a legal case against another person, such as a lawsuit, divorce, or eviction, the sheriff's office may be charged with serving court papers to the defendant. A sheriff may also be called upon to enforce a court order in a civil case. In many areas, a deputy of the sheriff's office can physically enforce an eviction order by removing a recalcitrant tenant and his belongings from a rental property. Sheriffs may also be in charge of seizing assets in order to enforce a bank levy or property seizure to satisfy a court judgment.

The involvement of a sheriff in criminal law enforcement may vary according to the availability of state or local police in an area. In areas in which there is significant police presence, sheriffs and their deputies may largely concern themselves with maintaining security at the courts and jails, serving court summons, and enforcing court judgments. There are many areas of the United States that have limited police presence and may have no local police office. In such places, the sheriff's office may be responsible for providing standard and routine police services, such as ticketing automobiles, responding to residents' calls for assistance, and investigating crime.

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Lainie Petersen
By Lainie Petersen , Former Writer
Lainie Petersen, a talented writer, copywriter, and content creator, brings her diverse skill set to her role as an editor. With a unique educational background, she crafts engaging content and hosts podcasts and radio shows, showcasing her versatility as a media and communication professional. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a valuable asset to any media organization.

Discussion Comments

By cardsfan27 — On Aug 13, 2012

What I find to be very interesting about the office of sheriff is that he or she is an elected official.

I know that in some places there are requirements associated with the occupation, like one must have law enforcement experience and training, but in some places there are no restrictions on who can run, thus anyone can run and be elected sheriff.

I know that a long time ago it was not unusual for politicians to run for sheriff, just to keep holding elected office. Former president Grover Cleveland was a sheriff during his political career and it was merely a stepping stone to future endeavors.

I really wonder if there are places out there that hire people out of the blue to become the sheriff and if this affects the department in any way?

By JimmyT — On Aug 12, 2012

@jcraig - I know that it does not make a lot of sense, but it is not that hard for the city police to deal with something that is in the Sheriff department's jurisdiction.

Anyone can become deputized, even an average citizen if necessary, and anytime that help is needed, by the sheriff's department, they merely can ask the police department to add assistance, like in the drug raids you described.

Also, because of the county jurisdiction, the sheriff's department usually deals with matters with the courthouse, as most courthouses in the country are county court houses, and it only makes sense that the police force that represents the county provides the protection from the court room.

By jcraig — On Aug 11, 2012

@titans62 - I live in an area that has a very bad drug problem, meth being made out in the country, and because it almost always occurs outside the city limits, the local police department cannot do anything about it and the jurisdiction in the matter is always up to the sheriff's department.

Because of this ongoing problem, there are a lot of people working in the sheriff's department, and sometimes even people in the police department becoming deputized, if they happen to need more trained officers, in case of a raid on a meth lab.

This is the only instance in which the city police can assist in the matter, which is all because of the jurisdiction issues in the matter, which I have never found to make a lot of sense.

By titans62 — On Aug 11, 2012

I live in a county that only has one large town in it, but several small villages.

Because of the way the county is the local police, in that town, only deal with matters within the town and let the county sheriff deal with the rest of the area of the county.

This can be a bit problematic, as there is a very large area for the sheriff and his deputies to cover and this means that there is a lot of law enforcement jobs that they have to take care of, probably a lot more than the police in the large town.

It is always a very big deal in the county when the sheriff is elected as he has to have intricate knowledge of the back roads of the county and know the people of the country really well.

Lainie Petersen

Lainie Petersen

Former Writer

Lainie Petersen, a talented writer, copywriter, and content creator, brings her diverse skill set to her role as an...
Learn more
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