The office of sheriff is one of antiquity. It is the oldest law enforcement office known within the common-law system and it had always been accorded great dignity and high trust. For the most part, the office of sheriff evolved out of necessity. Were it not for laws which require enforcing, there would have been no necessity for the sheriff. There would have been no need for the development of police administration, criminology, criminologists, etc. This is not the case, however. Man learned quite early that all is not orderly in the universe. All times and all places have generated those who covet the property of their neighbors and who are willing to expropriate this property by any means. As such, man’s quest for equity and order gave birth to the office of sheriff, the history of which begins in the Old Testament and continues through the annals of Judeo-Christian tradition. Indeed, there is no honorable law enforcement authority in Anglo-American law as ancient as that of the county sheriff. And today, as in the past, the county sheriff is a peace officer entrusted with the maintenance of law and order and order and the preservation of domestic tranquility.
Sheriffs have served and protected the English-speaking peoples for a thousand years. The office of sheriff and the law enforcement, judicial and correctional functions he performs are more than 1000 years old. The office of sheriff dates back at least to the reign of Alfred the Great of England, and some scholars even argue that the office of sheriff was first created during the Roman occupation of England.
Around 500 AD, Germanic tribes from Europe began an invasion of Celtic England which eventually led over the centuries to the consolidation of Anglo-Saxon England as a unified kingdom under Alfred the Great late in the 9th century. Alfred divided England into geographic units called “shires”, or counties.
In 1066, William the Conqueror defeated the Anglo-Saxons and instituted his own Norman government in England. Both under the Anglo-Saxons and under the Normans, the King of England appointed a representative called a “reeve” to act on behalf of the king in each shire or county. The “Shire-reeve” of King’s representative in each county became the sheriff as the English language changed over the years. The shire-reeve or sheriff was the chief law enforcement officer of each county in the year 1000AD. He still had the same function in Oklahoma in the year 2013.
Oklahoma’s first constitution, adopted in July 1907, created the Office of Sheriff as an elected official in each county. The concepts of “county” and “sheriff” were essentially the same as they had been during the previous 90 years of English legal history. Because of the English heritage of the American colonies, the new United States adopted the English law and legal institutions as its owner.
Oklahoma’s constitution has been revised several times through the years, but the constitutional provisions establishing the Office of Sheriff remains the same as it was in 1907, which, in turn, I strikingly similar to the functioning of the office of sheriff at the time of Alfred the Great and William the Conqueror. The major difference, of course, is that the Kings of England appointed their sheriff’s. From the earliest times in America, our Sheriffs have been elected by the people to serve as the principle law enforcement officer of each county.
The office of Sheriff is the only law enforcement office directly accountable to the people, the ultimate authority in a democracy. With the position of Sheriff comes a tremendous amount of responsibility that many citizens of Oklahoma do not realize. In many cases he will have to operate his office and the jail on a budget that is not fully funded by the taxes of the county. He will have to supplement his budget by civil service processes, seeking grants for equipment and vehicles. He will have to protect hundreds of square miles with a minimal amount of deputies and patrol vehicles. The Sheriff will have to deal with overcrowded jails. The Sheriff must be a professional law enforcement officer with a deep desire to serve the citizens in his county.
The Sheriff is responsible for the following functions of law enforcement in his county: patrol, courts, jail, training, transports, civil process, county buildings and livestock.