The United States government establishes different levels of agencies to enforce laws, conduct investigations, deter crimes, and arrest individuals accused of violating state or federal laws. The power of these agencies depends on their proximity to their citizens. Although their jurisdiction differs, they work together toward public safety and promote law and order throughout their operations.
This series presents the critical differences between a sheriff and a police officer and their role in ensuring public safety. Without further ado, let’s begin.
Sheriffs are elected officials with authority to maintain the peace and enforce the law across their respective counties. Also called local or county sheriffs; sheriffs are assisted in their duties by deputy sheriffs. Deputy sheriffs have the same roles as police officers, except that the police officers only investigate or make arrests in their assigned city. The authority to arrest across the county or within city limits is called jurisdiction. Sheriffs and police officers exist to avoid jurisdiction overlap or to prevent a city X police officer from enforcing the law in city Y. For example, a sheriff of a county comprising Orlando, Boston, Philadelphia, Montgomery, Atlanta, and San Antonio can enforce the law or arrest any citizen within that county. In contrast, an Orlando police officer does not have the authority to enforce the law in San Antonio or in any other city of that county, for that matter.
Let’s consider the following scenario. Say there is a high-speed chase involving police officers from a local department that then leads into another part of the county. At this point, the police officers will either disengage or ask the sheriff’s department to take over because police officers’ jurisdiction or power to chase resides within the boundaries of the city of their local police department or the city to which they are assigned. Continuing to chase outside of their city limits would have been jurisdiction overreach.
All American states have sheriffs except Alaska, Connecticut, and Hawaii, Connecticut has a State Marshal System, and Hawaii has only Deputy Sheriffs. In Louisiana, a county is called a parish, and in Alaska, it is a borough. All cities of the State of New York have sheriffs, except New York City, which uniquely has five boroughs.
So I leave nothing off the table; let me give you a quick definition of a county.
A county aggregates a specific state’s cities, towns, or rural populations. A county is a state’s territorial, political, and administrative division providing certain local government services to specific residents. A county comprises districts, which are types of political divisions that the local government manages. In a future episode, I will tell you what districts are and their role in state politics. Forty-one states elect their county sheriffs for a four-year term, two elect them for two years, one elects them for three years, and another elects them for six years.
As a recap, Sheriffs and police officers are responsible for ensuring public safety and upholding law and order. Sheriffs are elected officials and have jurisdiction to enforce the law across their respective counties. Police officers are not elected officials, but rather, they are assigned to a specific city and are only responsible for making arrests and conducting investigations in that city. While sheriffs and police officers have overlapping duties, the scope of their jurisdiction differs.
Sheriff departments are mainly responsible for managing county-level law enforcement activities, and police officers work crimes and enforce laws within the city limits. Ultimately, sheriffs and police officers play an essential role in protecting the safety and well-being of citizens.