Long before there was a police force in America, there were sheriffs. The office of sheriff has its roots in 9th century England. According to the National Law Enforcement Museum, the early policing system was modeled after the English structure, which incorporated the watch, constables, and sheriffs (derived from the British term, “shire-reeves”) in a community-based police organization. The British system developed from “kin policing” dating back to about 900 A.D., in which law enforcement power was in the people’s hands, and they were responsible for their families or “kin.”) Early law enforcement was reactionary, rather than pre-emptive—the watch usually responded to criminal behavior only when requested by victims or witnesses.
Then called a “reeve,” what is now known as the Sheriff in America, was an individual originally selected by the serfs to be their informal social and governmental leader. The reeve soon became the Kings appointed representative to protect the King’s interest and act as mediator with people.
In the United States, approximately 98 percent of sheriffs are elected. Good, bad or mediocre, what sets the office of sheriff apart from the police force, is that the sheriff’s office is accountable to the citizens through the election process. Read the rest of this entry