The Shire Reeve
Time Was ... when jangling spurs, wide brim Stetsons, blazing six guns and spirited, hard ridden horses were the hallmark of the western and eastern Sheriff, as popularized by the Hollywood film industry and the Luke Short novels.
In Earlier Times ... this oldest of all law enforcement agencies had its beginnings in a past so distant that historical dispute clouds its first formal establishment.
Some accounts place it in the days of the ancient Roman pro-consul. Most, however, say the office was created in the ninth century Anglo-Saxon England, where the word sheriff was probably derived. Each Shire, or land district, was headed by an official known as a Reeve ... thus the title Shire/Reeve and the gradual evolution over the years to the single designation, Sheriff.
With English colonization of Virginia, and the emergence (in the 1630's) of "counties" within that future State, the office of Sheriff arrived on the American shores. And, as the frontier moved westward, so did the Sheriff, where he was to become an integral part of the late nineteenth century American history.
As Times Changed ... so was there change in the role of the Sheriff and his deputies as the various States and their counties adjusted their local law enforcement agencies to the specific demands and the needs mandated by social, economic and technological changes.
In smaller, mainly rural, communities across the nation, today's Sheriff still retains and executes many of the original duties of the office while, in urban metropolitan areas like Baltimore County, a number of these functions have changed drastically, and are normally assigned to police departments. But, the Sheriff's star, the symbol of his basic, undiminished stature remains.
Today... all but 12 of the more than 3,000 Sheriffs across the nation are elected, and - as public officials - answer directly to the electorate. This in itself is a drastic change from the days when all were appointed, and answerable only to those who appointed them. In Maryland, every county and the city of Baltimore has an elected Sheriff.
In Baltimore County ... the Sheriff is the Chief Constitutional Law Enforcement Officer. He is elected to a four year term, with no limit on the number of consecutive terms for which he may run. His power and salary - which cannot be altered during his term of office - are determined by the State Legislature. All members of his staff are employed under conditions of the Merit System of the County.
The Staff, which expands as needs are justified and funds are allocated, currently consists of an Undersheriff, Captain, 2 Lieutenants, 6 Sergeant and 60 Deputies. All have delegated authority to carry out powers of the Sheriff. Their duties are supported by a clerical staff which includes a Administrative Assistant, and 7 Criminal Records Clerks.
To qualify for positions, Deputies are required to complete an accredited police training course supervised by the Maryland Police Training Commission. Continued training is also required annually.
Duties of The Office
- Court and Building Security - The major responsibility, assigned to Deputy Sheriffs, is the provision of security for Judges, Juries, Witnesses, etc., during trial sessions of both the Circuit and Juvenile Courts. The responsibility of providing security for the physical features of the County's Courts Building, is provided by a special and separate uniformed Guard Force, also under the supervision of the Sheriff.
- Service of Court Papers - Responsibility of the Office lies in the processing and serving of all legal papers issued by the Circuit Court of Baltimore County (third Judicial Circuit of Maryland), or by any official local or state agency in the County. In a single year, some 95,000 such documents 7 summonses, subpoenas, warrants, writs, court orders - are served, resulting in collection of approximately 221,000 in fees.
- Transportation and Custody of Prisoners - The custody and security of prisoners, from the time of their arrest to the time of release or relocation following sentencing, is another responsibility of the Sheriff's Office. The responsibility for transportation of prisoners includes: transportation from places of confinement to and from courts for trial, after conviction and sentencing to the Maryland Reception and Diagnostic Center in Baltimore City where places of confinement are selected or decided, as well as trips to state institutions, and funerals of family members.
- Judicial Sales - As an arm of the Court, the Sheriff must also carry out judgments of the Judiciary against those erring citizens who fail to pay debts the Court determines they owe. Admittedly a sometimes distasteful but necessary task, the Sheriff may also - at the direction of the Court - be required to seize personal property and sell it at auction to satisfy claims of a creditor.
- Public Gatherings - The Sheriff may, under certain circumstances, also assign his Deputies to assist at public gatherings. They can be readily recognized by their distinctive tan and brown uniforms, wide brim Stetson hats and seven point star badges.
Revised December 7, 2010