More than twelve hundred years ago, the country we now
call England was inhabited by small groups of
Anglo-Saxons who lived in rural communities called tuns
(a group of ten families).
The Anglo-Saxon word for chief was
gerefa, which was later shortened to reeve (group of 100
families). During the next two centuries, a number of
changes occurred in there system which led to a new unit
of government, the shire (groups of hundreds banded
together), which is now known in America as a county.
So to distinguish the leader of a shire from the leader
of a mere hundred, the more powerful official name
became known as a shire-reeve.
The word shire-reeve eventually
became the modern word for sheriff (the keeper, or
chief, of the county).
In the year 871, under King Alfred
the Great, the Sheriff was responsible for maintaining
law and order within his own county.
Over the years as the country
became more centralized the King distributed huge tracts
of land to various nobleman who governed those lands
under the King’s authority. The nobleman appointed the
Sheriff for the counties he controlled and for those
areas not given to noblemen, the King appointed his own
In 1066, more than ever before the
Sheriff became the agent of the King and his new duties
was that of tax collector.
In 1215, King John signed the
Magna Carta. In the text of the Magna Carta it
mentioned the role of the Sheriff nine times further
establishing the importance of the office.
Over the next few centuries, the
Sheriff remained the leading law enforcement officer for
The Sheriff Crosses the
When English settlers came to the
new world, the office of Sheriff traveled with them.
The first American counties were
established in Virgina in 1634 and one of these counties
elected a Sheriff in 1651.
Throughout the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries, American Sheriff’s were assigned a
broad range of responsibilities by colonial and state
legislature, such responsibilities as tax collection and
law enforcement were carried over from England. Some
new responsibilities were added such as over seeing the
jails and workhouses.
As America began to move Westward,
they took the concept of county jails and the Office of
Sheriff with them. The sheriff was desperately needed
to establish order in lawless territories where power
belonged to those with the fastest draw and the most
accurate shot. Here it is said that sheriff fell into
two categories, the quick and the dead.
Famous American Sheriffs:
Sheriff Buford Pusser — McNairy County, Tennessee
portrayed in Walking Tall, and in a suite of songs on
Drive-By Truckers' 2004 album, The Dirty South.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio — Maricopa County, Arizona, famous
for his stance on criminal justice.
Sheriff Pat Garrett — Lincoln County, New Mexico, famous
for killing Billy the Kid.
Sheriff Bat Masterson — Ford County, Kansas
Sheriff Sherman Block — Los Angeles County Sheriff's
Department, highest paid government administrator in the
Sheriff Dave Reichert — King County, Washington, tracked
the Green River killer; elected to Congress in 2004.
Sheriff Gerald Hege — Davidson County, North Carolina,
famous for his "no-deals" behavior and highly unorthodox
way of fighting crime.
Sheriff Grover Cleveland — Erie County, New York, the
only sheriff ever to be elected President of the United
States; in his case, he was elected to that office twice
in non-consecutive terms.
Sheriff Seth Bullock - Of Deadwood fame.
The Sheriff Today:
There are over three thousand
counties in the United States today and almost everyone
of them has a Sheriff.
In the majority of the states, the
office of sheriff is established by the constitution.
Most of the remaining states were established by an act
of state legislature.
There are two states in which the
Sheriff is not elected by the voters. In Rhode Island
they are appointed by the Governor and in Hawaii deputy
sheriff’s serve the Department of Public Safety’s
Most Sheriffs’ offices have a responsibility for law
enforcement, although the authority of the Sheriff
varies from state to state, the Sheriff has the power
to make arrests within his or her own county. Some
states extend this authority to adjacent counties or
the entire state. Many sheriffs’ offices perform
routine patrol functions such as traffic control,
accident investigations, transport of prisoners,
criminal investigations and some even have specialized
Sheriff’s are responsible for maintaining the safety and
security of the court, take charge of juries when
outside of the courtroom, service of court papers such
as subpoenas, summons, warrants and civil process and
In some states the Sheriff is responsible for the
operations of the county jail.
The sheriff is also responsible for collection of
property taxes. Which is the same function that they
served under the Kings in England.
In the South, where the county system
was strong, the office of Sheriff was more important
than in those areas where local government centered in
towns or townships.Under the first Kentucky
Constitution, the office of the Sheriff was elective and
the term of office was three years. Under the second
Constitution the Sheriff was nominated by the county
court and appointed by the governor from the courts list
of nominees. The term of office was two years (KY Const.
(1799), Art. III, sec. 31) In 1850, under the third
Constitution, the Sheriffs office was again made
elective. The term of Office was two years ( Art. VI,
sec. 4).The present Constitution requires the election
of a Sheriff in each county. His term is for four years
(section 99). Before taking office he must execute bond
as provided in KRS 70.020, 134.230 and 134.250. The bond
required by KRS70.020 relates to the performance of his
tax collection duties. He must also take the
constitutional oath of office (Ky. Const., sec.228) and
statutory oath of office.
Twenty-four years of age
A Citizen of Kentucky
A resident of the Commonwealth for two years
A resident of the county in which he is elected one
year prior of election.
Before Taking Office:
Execute a bond and take constitutional oath of office
Term of office:
Four Years, may be re-elected