Thoughts on the Sheriff


From the Fringe:

Thoughts on the Sheriff

Warning, contains adult concepts and humor; you must be at least this tall—to read this column.

Normally, the sheriff is one of the last things I’d like to think about. To be honest, when I go to my happy place, there are no sheriffs there. My desire to think about the sheriff honestly ranks below my desire to think about the morphology of certain endoparasites.

The liver fluke, an endoparasite. Life cycle. Learn more about Platyhelminthes HERE:

However, if one’s thoughts are driven to the sheriff, the best of circumstances is during an election. This is the one opportunity to examine the potential sheriff; it’s unfortunate that part of the process doesn’t include slamming them against a car and kicking the insides of their anklebones.

What does the sheriff do? We know from our intensive education on television that they chase moon-shiners, frisk pretty girls, eat donuts behind billboards, spit tobacco, handle their privates, and have the rear axles ripped from their cars. In reality, only some of those things are true.



Sheriff Joe Arpairo (left) and liver fluke. The liver fluke has an interesting life. Fluke from Kennesaw, link above.

Most of the time the sheriff is the chief administrator of the department. That means overseeing the daily operations, managing risk, monitoring officer performance and satisfaction, interacting with other branches of law enforcement, tracking funding opportunities and obligations, networking with counterparts in other counties, public relations, department needs assessments, setting broad policies, and working with other department heads.



Now, that’s a sheriff: Andy of Mayberry. Photo courtesy Mfblem.

The idealized sheriff, let’s say Andy Taylor, played by Matlock in the series "The Andy Griffith Show" in the 1960s. Andy didn’t carry a gun most of the time, he didn’t need one. He knew people and human nature, and he could manage even strangers from the city. If Andy were a sheriff today he’d be sued in the first twenty minutes, hounded by critics and finally die a mysterious death, probably at the hands of the county’s insurer. You just can’t practice law enforcement like that anymore.

But, Andy of Mayberry does teach us some important lessons, and one is that it matters what the sheriff thinks about things. When a citizen encounters the criminal justice system some things happen in the first moments of the confrontation that will set the course of the event. It matters what the cop thinks in the moment of the encounter. It mattes how he or she feels about issues, and how she or he feels about women or men or Native Americans, and it mattes what he or she thinks of their relationship with the sheriff and their chances for advancement. Necessarily, all of those things matter. As a consequence, it matters what the sheriff thinks about those things, too. A sheriff that thinks medical pot is bullshit is going to communicate that to deputies; it’s going to reflected in policy. The same is true of how the sheriff feels about other key issues, which is why the legislature has taken a lot of things, like how cops react to calls for domestic violence, rape and child abuse, out of the hands of cops with mandatory responses.



It’s important not to let the job go to your head.

A further concern as we consider the ideal sheriff is the Sierra County Reality factor. It seems hard to believe, but there is very little funding for basic policing. Homeland Security will send you a Martial Law Command Post complete with GPS, infra-red cameras and all spectrum cop radio, but they won’t help much when your next door neighbor kills your cat and threatens to kill you too if you don’t shut your f’n mouth. In Sierra County, the sheriff does without, like we all do, and he does more than one job, as we all do. If the sheriff doesn’t respond to calls, sometimes no one will respond. It is legally true that the role of law enforcement is not to protect you from your neighbor, but to keep the general peace, in other words, ensure that business as usual, continues.

Still, a sheriff who ignores voter complaints doesn’t get back in office, and that, as poor and protracted a system as it is, is our only defense against a bad sheriff.

Get to know the sheriff candidates.

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