Many of us had our first real look at a sheriff’s office back in 1960 when Andy Taylor and his fearless deputy, Barney Fife, patrolled the roads in and around Mayberry, N.C.

Television took us inside the Mayberry jail, the courthouse, and it even allowed us to ride in the county patrol car. And, for many people, Andy Taylor’s Sheriff’s Office was the standard. The things Andy did, well, that’s what a sheriff was supposed to do—fight crime, run the jail, serve the people of the community, spending quality and quiet time on his front porch with Aunt Bee, Barney, Opie and Miss Ellie and later, Helen, and pickin’ and grinnin’ with the Darlings.

But that’s the TV depiction of the life of a county sheriff. Real sheriffin’, however, is a bit different. So let’s take a brief look at a real-life, modern day sheriff and her/his office to see how things differ from the fictional Mayberry department.

First, like Andy, a sheriff is only one person, an elected official who’s in charge of a of the day-to-day operations of their office. And, since they have many responsibilities they’ll need help to fulfill their duties. Therefore, deputies are appointed (not hired) by the sheriff, to help with the workload. For example, the Clark County, Ohio sheriff’s office is comprised of the Sheriff (former sheriff Gene Kelly – pictured above). At the time Sheriff Kelly was in office, his staff consisted of one Chief Deputy, one Major, four Lieutenants, seventeen Sergeants, one-hundred-nine Deputies and thirty-four civilian support staff.

The current sheriff of Clark County, Ohio is Deborah K. Burchett.

Sheriff Burkett’s staff is comprised of the following:

Sheriff Burchett and her command staff oversee the following divisions within her office.

  • Administrative
  • Civil
  • Criminal Investigations
  • Jail / Court Services
  • Uniform Patrol
  • Professional Standards

*Each person who wears or carries a badge within a sheriff’s office is a deputy sheriff. Not all, though, are law enforcement officers. More on this later.

Deputy Sheriffs

Deputies patrol car

When a sheriff’s car is seen rolling along the highways and streets, many people assume the driver is a cop just like any other cop—a patrol officer who wears a gun and answers calls doled out by a 911 dispatcher.

Well, that’s partly true. They do answer calls. BUT, a deputy’s job is far more than just arresting people and putting them in jail. First of all, the drivers of those marked “sheriff’s” cars are typically deputy sheriffs, not the actual sheriff. Unless, of course, the sheriff happens to be driving one. Many sheriffs, though, opt for unmarked vehicles.

Pictured above is a deputy sheriff and his patrol car.

Okay, we know that sheriff’s are in charge of the county jails and for patrolling county roadways and responding to criminal complaints. And we’re well aware that they serve civil process, such as jury summons, lien notices, foreclosures, and evictions. We also know that a sheriff assigns deputies to protect the courts, judges, and to supervise prisoners. But did you know that the duties of sheriffs and deputies may also include:

  • K-9 handlers
  • evicting people from homes and businesses per court orders
  • transporting prisoners
  • serving on local, state, and federal task forces
  • search and rescue
  • teaching at police academies and schools
  • undercover assignments
  • sting operations
  • traffic enforcement
  • cold cases
  • mobile crime labs
  • In California, some sheriffs also serve as coroner of their counties.
  • Corrections officers in the county jail

and much, much more.

In the top photo, for example, Sheriff Kelly is presiding over a sheriff’s sale. A sheriff’s sale is basically an auction to dispose of/liquidate property in which a mortgage owner has defaulted.

In many areas, since some towns do not have police departments, the sheriff is responsible for all law enforcement of their jurisdiction. This is so, even in areas with their own police departments. This includes all towns and cities and villages within a county whose citizens voted to elect the sheriff.

All jurisdictions (with the exception of Alaska, Hawaii, and Connecticut) must have a sheriff’s office.


Per state law, Sheriffs in the state of Delaware do not have police powers!

Delaware is small state with only three counties. Each county—Sussex, New Castle, and Kent—has a county sheriff. However, as you’ll read below from Title 10 of the Delaware Code, sheriffs and their deputies do not have police powers, including the power to arrest.

Sheriffs and deputy sheriffs shall not have any arrest authority. However, sheriffs and deputy sheriffs may take into custody and transport a person when specifically so ordered by a judge or commissioner of Superior Court.

In Delaware the duties of the county sheriffs and their deputies is:

Sussex County – Serve paper for the courts and holds Sheriff’s sales for non-payment of taxes, mortgage foreclosures plus all other court orders.

New Castle County – Provides service of process for writs issued by the Superior Court, Court of Common Pleas, Court of Chancery, Family Court and courts from other states and countries along with subpoenas issued by the Department of Justice, Department of Labor, and Industrial Accident Board.

Kent County – Service the Citizens of Kent County by performing many functions for the State of Delaware Courts (Superior Court, Court of Common Pleas, U.S. District Court and the Court of Chancery).  The Sheriff’s Office serves legal notices to include (subpoenas, levies, summons, etc.)  Additionally, the Sheriff’s Office auctions real estate in accordance with the Delaware Code.


A deputy’s patrol car

The light bar on the vehicle’s top features white takedown lights (front), and side alley lights. These lights are merely white spotlights that’re used to illuminate specific items, or people, during traffic stops and other situations. The bar is also equipped with red and/or blue emergency lights. Some light bars are equipped with speakers for the siren (most siren horns are mounted in the front grill). Other light bars contain hidden radar antennas. The positioning and style of light bars depend on the individual department policies.

The trunk

The trunk of a patrol car is for the storage of evidence collection material, a defibrillator (not all departments issue defibrillators), extra ammunition, rain gear, flares, emergency signage, accident investigation equipment, extra paperwork, riot gear, etc. Again, department regulations may determine the contents of the trunk.

Mobile Date Terminal (MDT)

Mobile Date Terminal (MDT), and various controls for radar, siren, lights, radios, etc. The device on the dash (left) is the radar unit. The round, cylindrical object to the unit’s right is the radar antenna.

Spotlight

The spotlight is controlled by an arm that extends from the outside, through the “A” post, to a rotating handle and on/off switch. Many officers (me included) hang an extra set of cuffs on the spotlight handle for quick access during emergency situations.

Shotgun

Shotguns are mounted in various places inside patrol cars. Sheriff Kelly’s department chose to mount theirs above the Plexiglass partition between the front and rear seats.

Screen

A Plexiglass screen separates the driver’s compartment from the rear seat area. The glass in these dividers is not bulletproof. However, last week in Savannah, Ga., someone shot at a police car during a pursuit and the bullet lodged in the Plexiglass directly behind the officer, saving his life.

PA system

A microphone allows the deputy/detective/supervisor to relay commands through a built-in public address (PA) system. *Yes, that’s me in the photo above.

Roll call/Muster

Once at the sheriff’s office, or annex as in the image above, deputies attend roll call to receive their daily assignments and updates on the current status of “the streets” as reported by the previous shift.

A few deputies still unlock car doors for the unfortunate people who somehow manage to lock the keys inside their vehicles.

Some deputy sheriffs are cross-trained to work a variety of jobs within the department, such as patrol, jail, inmate transport, corrections officer, court security, etc. It’s likely that most jail/corrections officers are NOT sworn police officers.

Basic training is the same for both deputy sheriffs and local low enforcement officers. However, corrections officer basic training is an additional certification course.

 

It was just over 100 years ago—Sunday May 4th, 1919-when Lafayette County, Missouri Sheriff Joseph Caldwell Talbott, Deputy John McDonald, and Deputy Constable James Stapleton were shot and killed while transporting three auto theft suspects to jail.

Because the office of sheriff was left vacant, a special election was quickly scheduled to fill the position. Sheriff Talbott’s wife, Minnie Mae Talbott (pictured above), tossed her hat in the ring, which was unheard of at the time for a women to even remotely think she could win an election. But Minnie Mae was determined.

Twenty-five days after the three lawmen were gunned down in the line of duty, on May 29th, 1919, Minnie Mae Talbott won the office once held by her husband (by over 700 votes) and was officially sworn into office on June 8th 1919.

Minnie Mae Talbott was the first woman elected to the office of Sheriff in the United States. Just as remarkable, she was elected to office by an all-male electorate.  After all, women would not gain the right to vote until August 1920.

Sheriff Talbott and her five children resided in the jail complex where she often took it upon herself to prepare meals for the prisoners housed there. She did what she could, running the jail on a budget of a mere $80 mer month.

Sheriff Minnie Mae Talbott earned a groundbreaking spot in the history books. She served as Lafayette County, Missouri’s 16th sheriff, an office she held for only two years. She decided not to run in the next election due to her declining health. Therefore, she moved to Colorado, hoping the change would aid in her battle against consumption. She remarried there and and remained in Colorado until her death in 1962.

Joseph L. Forsha was elected and succeeded Sheriff Minnie Mae Talbot as the county’s 17th sheriff.

Female Sheriff in Charge of the Last Public Hanging in the United States

On August 14, 1936, just before 5:30 a.m., Rainey Bethea was led to the gallows in Owensboro, Kentucky. He’d been convicted of robbing, raping and murdering 70-year old Lischia Edwards.

News of Bethea’s public hanging, the last in the U.S., reached from coast to cost. The news was especially hot because the sheriff in the area, the official charged with carrying out the execution, was a woman—Sheriff Florence Shoemaker Thompson.

Sheriff Florence Thompson, a mother of four, was appointed to her position when her husband, Joseph Everett Thompson, the current sheriff, died of pneumonia. The local judge needed to move quickly to appoint a new sheriff to succeed Everett Thompson and his wife Florence was the logical choice for the job. This was so due to a practice at the time called “widow’s succession,” where a politician who died in office was succeeded in office by his widow.

Not one who favored wearing a uniform, Sheriff Florence Thompson often wore dresses while at work. To make her position noted, though, she pinned the sheriff’s star to her dress for all to see.

On the day of Bethea’s hanging, a mere four months after Thompson took office, a crowd of 20,000 people gathered to see the county’s female sheriff pull the lever to send the condemned man to his death. But she did not, opting to hand over the job to a former police officer who showed up in an extremely intoxicated state and practically botched the execution.

Journalists went nuts, ridiculing the sheriff for not having the guts to carry out the execution. One newspaper even falsely reported that the sheriff had fainted at the time the of the execution (yes, fake news existed in those days as well).

Thompson was re-elected in November of 1936 when she received 9,811 votes. The two who ran against her split a mere 3 votes between them. Obviously Sheriff Thompson was a popular woman. She served until 1938 when she decided to leave office. However, she was immediately appointed as a deputy by her successor.


Rainey Bethea’s last meal consisted of fried chicken, pork chops, mashed potatoes, pickled cucumbers, cornbread, lemon pie, and ice cream. He elected to wear a new pair of socks at this execution, but no shoes.

Courtroom security

 

The responsibility of protecting county courtrooms, judges, jury members, court employees, witnesses, and all citizens who attend court hearings and trials, falls on the shoulders of the county sheriff. The sheriff is also responsible for transporting jail inmates to and from their court appearances, and for guarding the prisoners while they’re inside the courthouse.

US Marshals have the responsibility of providing security and prisoner transport for federal courts.

Sheriffs deputies employed as court security officers undergo special training related to working in a court environment. However, depending on an individual sheriff’s policy, court security officers may, or may not, be certified police officers.

The sergeant in the above photograph (you can tell he’s a sergeant by the three stripes on his sleeve and collar insignia) is in charge of all courtroom security operations. In addition to supervising the deputies working in the various courtrooms, he’s responsible for delivering each prisoner to the correct courtroom on time.

Closed circuit cameras in each courtroom and other strategic locations, project real-time images to the security office. Judges also have panic buttons beneath their benches. A press of the button sends an emergency signal to the security office, and to police dispatchers and the nearby sheriffs office.

Deputies gather chains in preparation of transporting prisoners back to jail.

Court security officers must learn to use various screening devices, such as hand-held metal detecting wands and x-ray equipment.

Monitors for x-ray equipment.

 

Officer stationed at x-ray machine and walk-through metal detector.

 

Typical courtroom

 

Jury box

 

Prisoner holding cell in court basement near the security office. Prisoners are brought to the courthouse where they’ll wait in these cells until their case is called. When their trial is complete prisoners return to the holding cells until deputies transport them back to jail.

*Remember, individual agency policies, rules, and procedures may vary.

Deputy Sheriffs

 

Most of us had our first real look at a sheriff’s office back in 1960 when Andy Taylor and his fearless deputy, Barney Fife, patrolled the roads in and around Mayberry, N.C.

Television took us inside the Mayberry jail, the courthouse, and it even allowed us to ride in the county patrol car. And for many people, Andy Taylor’s Sheriff’s Office was the standard. The things Andy did, well, that’s what a sheriff was supposed to do—fight crime, run the jail, provide security for the court, and serve the people of the community.

So let’s take a look at a real-life, modern day sheriff and his office to see how things differ from the fictional Mayberry department. First, like Andy, a sheriff is only one person, which means they’ll need help to fulfill their duties. So deputies are appointed, not hired, to help with the workload. For example, the Clark County, Ohio sheriff’s office is comprised of the Sheriff (Gene Kelly – pictured above), one Chief Deputy, one Major, four Lieutenants, seventeen Sergeants, one-hundred-nine Deputies and thirty four civilian support staff.

When we see a sheriff’s car rolling along the highways and streets, most people assume the driver is a cop just like any other cop—an officer who wears a gun and answers calls doled out by a 911 dispatcher. Well, that’s partly true. They do answer calls. BUT, a deputy’s job is much more than just arresting people and putting them in jail.

Sure, we know that sheriff’s are in charge of the county jails. And we’re well aware that they serve civil process, such as jury summons, lien notices, foreclosures, and evictions. We also know that a sheriff assigns deputies to protect the courts, judges, and to supervise prisoners. But did you know that the duties of sheriffs and deputies may also include…

Deputies patrol car

In the above photo, Sheriff Kelly is presiding over a sheriff’s sale. A sheriff’s sale is basically an auction to dispose of/liquidate property in which a mortgage owner has defaulted.

Operating mobile crime labs and investigative services.

Investigation of major crime scenes.

Community services, such as safety programs for citizens with special needs. One such program includes the ability to locate missing and/or lost persons through the use of tracking devices.

A person with special needs wears a wrist band with a built-in transmitter. Deputies equipped with specially designed receivers and antennas can then quickly track the person and return them to safety.

Housing prisoners from other jurisdictions whose facilities are overcrowded.

And, some locales may not have jail facilities at all and must rely on nearby sheriff’s offices for the safekeeping of their prisoners until trial.

Not all deputy sheriffs are police officers. Some are certified to work in the jail. Some are court security officers, and others have the sole duty of serving civil process.

Some deputies still unlock car doors for the unfortunate people who somehow manage to lock the keys inside their vehicles.

 

Deputies often organize and supervise search and rescue teams.

 

Some deputy sheriffs are cross-trained to work a variety of jobs within the department, such as patrol, jail, inmate transport, court security, etc.

*     *     *

Registration for the 2011 Writers’ Police Academy is now open.

Join us for a weekend of training at a real police academy with real police academy instructors and equipment.

It’s a blast!