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Friday, May 24, 2024

Sheriffs and Their Power

Law enforcement in the United States is decentralized and fragmented.  Sometimes the system works well.  Sometimes it does not.  Sheriffs wield vast and often  unchecked power.   News deserts do not help.

E.D. Cauchi, Scott Pham at CBS:
CBS News gathered and analyzed federal law enforcement data that showed while more people died overall in encounters with city police, deaths in encounters with county sheriffs occurred at a significantly higher rate. For every 100,000 people arrested, more than 27 people died in the custody of sheriffs, while that number was fewer than 10 for police officers in 2022, the most recent year of available data.
According to CBS News' investigation, problems were more prevalent in smaller, more remote communities where deputies typically had less training, fewer resources and limited oversight. These factors allowed sheriff misconduct to continue for longer, becoming more severe and brazen before it was discovered. Even then, they rarely faced consequences.

In McCurtain County, Oklahoma, Sheriff Kevin Clardy was caught on audiotape in March of 2023 talking with other county leaders about how they might kill and discreetly bury the bodies of two local journalists who had written stories about alleged corruption inside his office, among others.


"Nothing has happened to them," said McCurtain Gazette reporter Chris Willingham. He and his father Bruce were the journalists whose murders the sheriff and others were heard contemplating. "They have to feel untouchable, they're above the law."


An estimated 72% of the U.S. is rural, where more than 3,000 sheriffs act as the primary law enforcement. Only Alaska and Connecticut don't have any sheriffs; the latter abolished the position two decades ago due to high-profile corruption scandals.

What it takes to qualify for the job of sheriff varies from state to state: some require law enforcement experience, while others allow any U.S. citizen over age 18 to wear the star. The vast majority of sheriffs are elected, making voters the ultimate check on their authority. But candidates frequently run unopposed and it's not uncommon for a sheriff to remain in power for decades.