In Oklahoma, the county sheriff is the only law enforcement officer that is constitutionally-elected. The questions that I have often heard this election season are why does it matter who the people elect as their Sheriff? Why does it matter what side of the political spectrum a Sheriff falls into?
First and foremost, the people need to be educated on what a county sheriff actually does. That is, what are the duties that the county sheriff is responsible for? Without knowing what a sheriff is responsible for, a person cannot truly make an informed decision on who they should vote for.
The sheriff is responsible for all law enforcement in unincorporated areas within their jurisdiction. An unincorporated area would be a town that does not have a standing police department, such as a rural area.
It is not, however, the responsibility of the sheriff to provide law enforcement services in cities that already have a standing police force. To do so would take money away from that city. Anytime a sheriff or a sheriff’s deputy makes a traffic stop and writes a ticket for whatever violation occurs, the money from that ticket goes to the county, not to the municipality where the traffic stop occurred. This is fine if it is in an unincorporated area because that town was never going to get money from a traffic stop anyway. But in an area such as Midwest City, or Edmond, or Oklahoma City, or Del City, money from traffic violations is an important source of revenue and a Sheriff taking money away from these cities is, quite frankly, immoral.
The sheriff must maintain the county jail, establish policies and procedures for the operation of the county jail, and monitor its operations. The sheriff is also responsible for transporting prisoners to and from the court and is responsible for transporting prisoners to state prison after they have been sentenced. It is the responsibility of the sheriff to take care of the prisoners under his charge.
In this aspect, the person that is elected sheriff must be an able administrator. This person must have management skills, organizational skills, and sometimes above all, people skills. Being a person that is constitutionally elected to the people, the Sheriff must be accountable to the people of that county. And part of being a sheriff means that you are a capable superintendent of the money that is budgeted to your office. This is one of the areas where a person’s political view comes into play when thinking of who should be a county sheriff. The choice must be made whether to choose a sheriff that has been known to spend their budget recklessly and without consequence or to choose a sheriff that will spend their budget conservatively, only spending on what is absolutely necessary. A sheriff that squanders away the money allotted to their office is more likely to need more money and cause more money to be taken away from the taxpayers due to the poor spending decisions of one particular office holder.
In order to be a capable administrator of a county jail, especially in a county with a large population, that sheriff must have a good understanding of the United States Constitution and fully understand the rights of the people under his charge. He must be able to recognize that, although these people are prisoners in his jail, they are still American citizens and have rights just like anybody else. They should be treated like people instead of animals. A sheriff that treats his prisoners poorly is likely to be the type of person that cannot administer other areas of the jail properly. He probably treats his employees, the detention offices and the deputies, poorly.
In addition to these duties, the sheriff is also responsible for serving eviction notices and all over civil papers such as divorce papers and lien notices.
Lastly, the sheriff is responsible for ensuring that announcements of foreclosed property sales are published and for conducting public auctions of said property.
Keeping these duties in mind, the qualities to look for in a county sheriff are honesty, integrity, competence, accountability, transparency, and diligence. The person that a voter chooses to be their next county sheriff should be a person that they can trust with their lives, their freedoms, and their taxes.
To put it bluntly, the sheriff cannot be a politician with a power trip and a badge. He needs to be a man of the people. He needs to be a servant of the people. He needs to be a protector of the people from an oppressive government by ensuring that the federal government does not overstep their constitutional authority in his jurisdiction. The sheriff must uphold the highest law of the land, which is the Constitution of the United States, and protect the people’s God-given rights to life, liberty, and property.
BE SURE TO READ THE "SEQUEL" TO THIS ARTICLE, The Power Behind the Badge!