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  • Sheriff's Office and Police Department

    I'm trying to understand the main differences between a Sheriff's office and a police department, more specifically what kind of crimes they look into and how the day-to-day is like for the officers.

    As I understand the sheriff's office does law-enforcement tasks and provide jail services for a whole county, and the police dept. handles only a specific city or town. When does a crime committed in a town is handled by someone from the Sheriff's office? Is there a situation where the jurisdiction of a crime gets blurry or depends on the density of the city/town, or if they even have a police dept.?

  • #2
    Areas covered / jurisdiction.

    Sheriffs handle Counties, Police handle cities.

    Sheriffs have jurisdiction in the counties, and may help in the cities, depending on the set up.

    Both usually have the same authority.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by NolaT View Post
      Areas covered / jurisdiction.

      Sheriffs handle Counties, Police handle cities.

      Sheriffs have jurisdiction in the counties, and may help in the cities, depending on the set up.

      Both usually have the same authority.
      Thanks NolaT. What I don't quite understand about that is when a crime happens in a city/town in a county. When does the police dept. decides to handle something to the Sheriff's office? What guides this decision? Does it depend on what the crime is or where it occurred within the county?

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      • #4
        In Ohio, the sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in the county, with jurisdiction throughout the county. (Arguably, the coroner is the chief law enforcement officer, but that's an issue for a different discussion.)

        By law, the sheriff had three duties: Serve the courts, maintain the jail and keep the peace; in that order. Most, if not all counties in Ohio interpret "keep the peace" as provided police services for those political subdivisions that don't have police departments.

        Some of the more densely populated counties have police departments covering all of the townships, villages and cities within the county, so their patrol divisions are small, if they even exist. Some of these counties staff task forces dealing with drugs, fugitives, etc.

        The typical county, though, staffs a patrol or police services division, and is the sole law enforcement agency responsible for what are usually townships and sometimes villages. Most deputies are spread pretty thin in predominantly rural counties, so they typically don't answer call for service in areas that have their own police protection. Since they have jurisdiction throughout the county, they will assist other agencies when requested to do so.

        Things get a little different in other states. Ohio doesn't have a state police agency. The Ohio State Highway Patrol only has jurisdiction on public highways or state property. Those states that have state police agencies (NY, PA, MI, for example) tend to rely upon State Police to provide police services for those areas that aren't covered by another police agency. There are exceptions. Some counties in those states staff a fairly substantial patrol division. Others do not. It depends on the county and what the commissioners of that county are willing to fund.

        Hope that helps.

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        • #5
          One more thing to add that might help clear up any confusion you still might have. In Ohio, sheriff's frequently have mutual aid agreements with the other police agencies in the county. That allows a police officer from a city within that county to backup a deputy, and have full authority to act as a deputy sheriff outside of their normal jurisdiction.
          State law also allows a deputy sheriff to backup sheriff's deputies in another county if asked to do so. A more recent state law allows the highway patrol to backup other police agencies on private property if asked to do so.

          Bottom line, if it's a very serious call, everyone goes. Otherwise professional courtesy calls for minding your own business.

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          • #6
            Just noticed that my closing sentence sounded bad. It's been my experience, especially in smaller counties, all of the officers get to know one another, regardless of their agency, and often work together. Of course, there are exceptions, but they are just that.

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            • #7
              Thanks Joe2845, you were very helpful indeed. Another thing to point out I guess is that a Sheriff is an elected official, I'm not sure if they are the only ones that need to be elected for the job though.

              So, if I'm not mistaken, the duties may vary from state to state, from county to county, and generally speaking it mostly depends on the conditions of the city/town: the Sheriff's Office is more active when the city or town doesn't have its own Police Dept to handle the day-to-day operations.

              Is it correct to say that small towns and cities depend more heavily on the Sheriff and the State Police/Highway Patrol?

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              • #8
                Originally posted by kstroeter View Post

                Thanks NolaT. What I don't quite understand about that is when a crime happens in a city/town in a county. When does the police dept. decides to handle something to the Sheriff's office? What guides this decision? Does it depend on what the crime is or where it occurred within the county?
                There are cities, villages, townships Within Counties. If the crime is within the boundaries of the above municipalities, they’ll handle the call. The Sheriff may back them up if it’s a serious crime / call.

                If the sheriff doesn’t back them up, it’s not because they can’t or don’t have authority, it’s only because it’s not their area of responsibility. Even if they do assist, they’re only assisting, not actually “taking” the call.

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                • #9
                  Even more confusing may be when you see State Police thrown into the mix.

                  State Police, at least in Louisiana have statewide jurisdiction, but are mainly tasked with Interstate policing,……accidents, DWI, and citations.

                  With the above thoughts, state police handle accidents on state highways, so if there is a state hwy accidents, neither the municipality police, or the sheriff will take it, it’ll be handled by the state.

                  Sheriffs are also elected, answering to No One, except the voters. Police Chiefs / Superintendents can be either elected or appointed.

                  To further confuse you, there may be Chiefs within a Sheriffs office, but they’ll be deputy chiefs, plural, working under the main Chief Deputy, who answers only to the Sheriff.

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                  • #10
                    Only speaking for Ohio again. The sheriff is an elected office. They are elected or reelected every four years. There is one exception and that is Cuyahoga County (the county seat being Cleveland). Cuyahoga County was so corrupt, that they recently did away with the county commissioners system, and now have an "Executive Officer" of the county. In that county, the sheriff is appointed, not elected. The system they devised is more involved than I describe, but still, the sheriff is appointed, like a police chief would be.

                    It's fair to say that smaller agencies might defer to the SO for involved investigations. They may not have the resources. For example, there is a part-time township agency in our county wherein the SO will head up the investigation into serious offenses every time.

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                    • #11
                      Let me make it even more complicated.

                      Technically, a Sheriff's Office has jurisdiction anywhere in the county, including within incorporated areas of a city. So, they CAN take a call, even within an incorporated area that has a police department. SO's normally don't, because they have enough on their plates and there's no reason to step on other agency's toes. EXCEPT, of course, when you have a massive egotist for a Sheriff (not uncommon...they are politicians, after all) who decides that they'll take any call when requested, no matter if the call is in someone else's jurisdiction. Normally, they Sheriff justifies this as a political decision ("I'm elected to serve the people, no matter where they are in the county..." BS). This leads to all kinds of issues (people "cop shopping," jurisdictional ****ing matches between agencies, call jumping/punting).

                      I bring this up because I happen to work in such a county with such a Sheriff. Normally, the road officers/deputies do their best to short-circuit this, because there aren't many of us in a small rural area and it's better to work together than against each other, but toes are occasionally stepped on and feelings occasionally hurt.
                      "He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
                      -Friedrich Nietzsche

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                      • #12
                        It varies wildly depending on region and the specific department or office.

                        In Colorado Sheriffs are elected, their deputies have county-wide jurisdiction, and they have certain duties and powers mandated by the state constitution and statute: keep the peace of the county, keep the jail, serve the processes of the courts, provide for the security of the courts, serve as county fire marshal, etc.

                        The two exceptions are Denver County and Broomfield County, neither of which have an elected Sheriff.

                        There is nowhere in the County of Denver that is not also in the City of Denver. Denver PD provides all law enforcement functions, the duties and powers of the Sherrif are vested in the Chief of Denver PD, and the Denver Sheriff is appointed by the city council just like the police chief, and the sheriff department only does detention, corrections and court security. That is similar to how some sheriff offices back east work.

                        Broomfield County never had a sheriff, it was formed from parts of 4 other counties fairly recently, and like Denver there is no part of Broomfield County that is not also the City of Broomfield. The Chief of Broomfield PD is vested with the duties and powers of the Sheriff, including keeping their own jail.

                        As for who takes what cases, that depends on where the original crime occurred. The Sheriff COULD investigate something that happened in a municipality, but usually it’s dispatched to that town’s PD. Sometimes a sheriff office will help a major investigation with resources, but it still belongs to the town.

                        Day to day operations, sheriff deputies focus on the unincorporated parts of the county, or their contract towns, but they CAN take action inside a city or town if they need to or want to.

                        So, for example, in the county where I used to work there were two municipal departments. One had 3 officers, one had 1 officer. So there was usually 1 officer on, or 0. An in progress crime would be dispatched to the PD but we usually ended up responding anyway either to back the guy on duty, or keep a lid on things until an on call officer could respond. Occasionally they would help us out by covering in progress things near their towns the same way if we were far away…. I’ve driven code for over 90 minutes to calls in that county. It’s the size of Delaware, with maybe 4 deputies working if we were lucky. Usually 3, often 2 and there were days I was the only guy on the road at all. If we were at one end and something happened at the other it could be a while before we got there.

                        However, if I was driving thru one of the towns and saw a traffic infraction or a suspected DUI, or suspicious activity of some sort, I could and did make the stop or investigate…. The Sheriff is the sheriff for the whole county. Depending on the details I would either pass it to a town officer or keep it. The time I saw a guy kick in the back door of a shop closed for the season, I passed the arrest to the town officer. A DUI we would usually keep.

                        It gets better when you add in the State Patrol. They have jurisdiction over all crashes outside municipal limits…. and if course they have statewide jurisdiction just like

                        Where I work now, a small town, the Sheriff doesn’t have the manpower to go sticking his nose in town or city business. His guys occasionally make a traffic stop or serve civil papers in town but that’s about it. All emergency services: fire, LE and EMS are dispatched thru the county. The dispatcher look at where the call originates and dispatch to the appropriate agency. Sometimes we find out that the crime happened somewhere else …. A girl tells her mom she was assaulted at a part a week ago…. Usually gets dispatched to the agency where they live, but when those officers find out the party was in another town, it gets passed to that agency for the report and investigation.

                        That said, now that I’m a town cop, I’ve taken reports and done investigations for minor traffic accidents outside of town just so a state trooper didn’t have to respond 45 minutes for a fender bender…. but always with their OK or at their request.

                        I bring this up because I happen to work in such a county with such a Sheriff.
                        Dude, you wanna take a call in my town help yourself.
                        Last edited by tanksoldier; 05-05-2022, 08:17 PM.
                        "I am a Soldier. I fight where I'm told and I win where I fight." -- GEN George S. Patton, Jr.

                        "With a brother on my left and a sister on my right, we face…. We face what no one should face. We face, so no one else would face. We are in the face of Death." -- Holli Peet

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                        • #13
                          In Pennsylvania, sheriff's don't run the jails nor do they handle any traditional police or investigative duties.
                          I don't answer recruitment messages....

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by orlandofed5-0 View Post
                            In Pennsylvania, sheriff's don't run the jails nor do they handle any traditional police or investigative duties.
                            School me, what do they handle?

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                            • orlandofed5-0
                              orlandofed5-0 commented
                              Editing a comment
                              Warrants, court security and prisoner transport

                          • #15
                            Originally posted by NolaT View Post

                            School me, what do they handle?
                            Parking. Lots of parking.

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