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A Historical Perspective

on the

Office of Elected Sheriff.

     The question presented is not a new one, having been around in some form for at least 300 years. In 1682 the City of London and County of Middlesex were concerned with moves by the Crown that would deprive them of the right to elect their sheriffs.

     The American county itself has its antecedents in ninth century England when the King divided the country into “shires”, or local government units. Three officials oversaw the shire: the earl, the sheriff, and the bishop. Of these, the shire-reeve, later called sheriff, was second in importance to the earl. Originally appointed, the English sheriff eventually became an elected official.

     When English colonists set up local governments in America the units and types of officials were patterned after the English model but with adaptations including the appointment of local officials by the colonial governor. Appointment remained the norm until during the Jacksonian era when states switched to election of many county officials.

     Today the number of local positions still elected has been significantly reduced, but across most of the country the sheriff remains an elected official. A few states do not have the office of sheriff as such. There are no sheriffs in Alaska and that office was essentially abolished in the year 2000 in Connecticut. Hawaii does not have the position traditionally associated with the office of sheriff. In Rhode Island, the governor appoints the sheriff. In two Colorado counties and Dade County, Florida, sheriffs are appointed by the county executive.



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