sheriff vs. police

What exactly is the difference between a sheriff and a police officer? I know that sheriffs are generally elected officials, but what is their jusidiction?

For that matter, in Europe what’s the difference between the policia, the gendarmes, and the Guardia Civil? Supposedly all cooperate in law enforcement, but if organizational rivalry arises, do they get into conflict with one another? Have there ever been conditions in a country where one constabulary actually combats another one?

For Americans, the tension you see in cop shows between local law enforcement and the FBI is a similar theme. You know, local Officer O’Brien is on the case and suddenly Special Agent Smith walks in, flashes his FBI badge, sweeps all the files into his briefcase, and peremptorily walks out without so much as a how-d’you-do.

It varies from locale to locale. In many larger, metropolitan areas, the Sherrif’s Department handles security for the courts system, serves papers, and runs the jail. Actual criminal investigations are left up to the police departments. For instance, here in Richmond we have an elected sheriff who handles the courts, etc., and an appointed Chief of Police who is the administrative head of the criminal investigators.

In most metropolitan areas of the US, I think that the average police officer can eat far less donuts than your average employee of the sheriff’s department. There also is a weight requirement in most sheriff’s departments, possibly 50 pounds above that of the local city/metro police department.

Police are generally city, and sherrifs cover the county. State cops police the whole state.
It seems that sherrifs tend to cocnentrate on rural areas with little or no local police coverage, and take care of delivering summons and eviction notices and such. State police also tend to cover areas with little local police.
The FBI tends to concentrate on inter-state crimes.

Well, in Pennsylvania the sheriff is an elected official whose deputies and employees handle prisoner transport and courtroom security. In counties other than Philadelphia and (I think) Allegheny the sheriff is also responsible for the service of original process in civil actions. The Sheriff’s Office also handles such things as processing criminal background checks, applications for concealed weapon permits, and so forth.

Sheriffs and deputies in Pennsylvania are not considered police officers and they do not conduct criminal investigations, make arrests (other than those necessary as part of their duties as court security officers). They also cannot make traffic stops or issue citations.

There may be some exceptions to the above (such as when there’s a conflict of interest with the local police) but as a general rule, their sphere of authority is seperate and distinct from that of the police.

trainwreck is correct.

The Sheriff is a civil officer of the county, charged with enforcing what used to be called the King’s Peace therein and in supporting the courts by carrying out their orders. He has several common law duties and powers by virtue of his office, where they haven’t been superseded by statute. He is the chief law enforcement officer of his county (again assuming that state statute has not overridden that role).

Local police are the creations of the local government; state police, of the legislature. The sheriff has legal existence separately from the county legislature.

He is obliged to keep confined those persons serving a sentence for a crime but not remanded to the state correctional facilities, unless the county (or the city, where this is legal) has otherwise provided for their confinement or unless the state has by statute assumed duty for all confined sentenced prisoners. He is obliged to serve legal writs (e.g., subpoenas) issued by the county’s courts.

Obviously, he does most of this work through deputies. He is entitled, subject to the county’s willingness to fund it, to maintain a police-style presence in the county through his deputies, supplementing the work of the state police and the local police forces. But that is only one aspect of his duties.

Finally, in time of emergency and in the absence of an elected county chief executive, it is he who can proclaim a state of emergency for the county (again subject to statutory revocation) and he is entitled to call on each able-bodied man in the county to function under his direction in urgent situations (this is the posse comitatus, origin of the posse of Western lore and beloved of a certain variety of conspiracy theorist, but certainly a valuable option to have available for emergency situations.)

An interesting variation on the above is Montgomery County, MD (suburban Washington) which has a county police department. I assume there is no sheriff–at least I never heard of one when I lived there.

Trainwreck is OK, essentially.

Gary T: In Charles County MD, there are few towns or cities that are officially incorporated, and so the Sheriff has almost universal jurisdicition for police type duties. The only town cops I know of in the county are in La Plata (Pronounced “Law Plate-uh”) MD. AFAIK, there are no Sheriff cars on the streets in Montgomery County, though there might be a Sherriff as an official who may or may not also be the MC Chief of Police.

FWIW, Montgomery CO runs the liquor stores (such as they are), while in Charles CO, they’re all private and have drive-through windows. Now that’s living!

Right next door to Montomery County, MD is PG County, which has a Sheriffs Department that handles court-related issues, a county police department that handles routine policing (and kills more unarmed suspects than any other PD in the US, but thats a subject for the Pit) on top of the various municipal police departments. In addition, College Park has a State Police barracks, and the University of Maryland Police, who are also state troopers. Many, many, jurisdictions layered on top of each other.

Recently, the distinction has been of importance in Delaware (Sussex County to be exact). In DE the sheriff is a county offical with duties similar to those described above, such as transporting prisoners and serving court papers. But Sheriff Robert Reed feels that he is given regular police powers by the state constitution. There has been a big deal about his cars having red and blue lights, and in fact resulted in his cars’ registrations being revoked.

Keep in mind, though, that Maryland actually invests power in their counties; where in most other states, counties are arbitrary borders of little signifigance, in Maryland counties are nearly mini-states. Or so it was taught to me in (Maryland) public school.

“But Sheriff Robert Reed feels that he is given regular police powers by the state constitution.”

He’s probably wrong, but it’s not such an outlandish position when you read Art. XV, Sec. 1 of the Delaware Constitution: “The Chancellor, Judges and Attorney General shall be conservators of the peace throughout the State; and the Sheriffs shall be conservators of the peace within the counties respectively in which they reside.” What exactly a conservator of the peace IS has to be answered under state statute, which is why I say he’s probably wrong. But he’s not just making up powers strictly in his mind either.

I live in Los Angeles County, California, where the current Sheriff, Lee Baca, won his office in a surprisingly close race against a dead guy: former incumbent Sherman Block.

My wife and I recently were witnesses to a traffic accident in the middle of a street that forms the boundary between the cities of Long Beach and Lakewood. Police officers from both departments showed up, and after talking it over decided that jurisdiction on the accident would be given to the county sheriff’s office.

After sheriff’s deputies (easily identified by their sickly brown uniforms) showed up and began interviewing witnesses, I talked to one of the LBPD officers and he told me that this was the usual practice for wrecks on this street.

From what I’ve observed in this instance and others, it appears that the county sheriff takes on all duties ordinarily handled by the city police in unincorporated areas of LA County (which is a pretty sizeable chunk of it, actually). This, presumably, in addition to the more traditional jobs of the county sheriff as outlined in the above posts.

In those places that have the deputies limited as servants of the county courthouse, do you have a state police force for the unincorporated areas? In my state, the State Patrol is basically limited to state and interstate highways and state college campuses. [They’re the best there is to investigate traffic accidents, but they don’t have the training to deal with, say, burglary.]

On the other hand, it is generally accepted that city, county, and state deputies and officers derive their power from the state constitution. Therefore, they all have power of arrest throughout the state. They just choose only to exert it (mostly) inside their accepted jurisdictions, to make administration easier.

Gendarmes are a hangover from Napoleonic times, IIRC. The Frencg gendarmerie (and its equivalents in Italy and Spain) are run by the countries’ Defense Departments. They generally police rural areas, while civilian police (municipal or national) look after towns and cities.

In the UK, sheriffs no longer have anything to do with policing. In Scotland, a sheriff is actually a local judge. In England, he is a county employee in charge of enforcement of civil law - typically evictions.

Cecil’s take

Concerning the gendarmes :

The most obvious difference in ordinary situations is that the gendarmes are in charge of rural areas and little towns, as Hemlock said, while the police operate in urban areas (I would say in towns with more than 10 000-20 000 inhabitants). They’re also the road police.
But another very important difference is that gendarmes are actually military. So, they’ve military ranks (a gendarmerie lieutnant is an actual officer and higher ranked than a police lieutnant, there are colonels, generals, etc…), and a military organization. In particular they’re under the authority of the minister in charge of defense instead of the minister in charge of police. This has several consequences :

-They’ve much more obligations than police officers. There’s no limit, in theory, to the time spend on duty (and actually, it seems it’s often abused. At least, they and their families complain a lot about it), they can’t create an union, they must live with their families in barracks (not sure it’s the correct word) close to the gendarmerie station (usually), etc…

-They’ve also more “rights”. For instance, a gendarme can in theory open fire after a mere warning (or even without it in some situations), while a police officer can only do so in some limited circumstances (like when his life or the life of others is threatened, etc…). It could be anecdotal, but not surprisingly, there has been cases when a gendarme killed someone in dubious circumstances, and it much more difficult to have him sentenced that it would be for a police officer.

-They have a (usually limited) military training and there are gendarmerie units with specific para-military duties, for instance :

*They protect official buildings (and embassies in foreign territory where they also act as police officers)
*They protect some strategical assets when the army isn’t in charge of them, especially in time of war.
*They have some heavy armament (like light armored vehicles, etc…) and could act in a way similar(I suspect) to the National Guard in the US in case of turmoil, etc…
*There are “mobile gendarmerie” units which are anti-riot police, supposedly less “kind” than their police counterpart (and which, once again, have in theory much less limitations in regard to the use of force, including lethal force)
*They’re the MP in regular army units
*They’re used as police units in peace-keeping operations
*There’s an elite gendarmerie unit trained for hostage rescue, counter-terrorism actions, etc…
*The “republican guard” (similar to the british “horse guard”, for instance) one can see riding horses for official events is a gendarmerie unit.

Etc…(there is a lot of other specialized gendarmerie units, like mountain gendarmerie, air gendarmerie, even paratroopers, I believe…)
Historically, they predate Napoleon. They appeared during the XVI° century.Originally they were regular military units or military police which, in time of peace, would be used by regional governors as a police force in the area they were in charge of. With time, they became permanent local police force (during the XVIII° century), but never loose their military status. “Gendarme” litterally means “men-at-arms” (it’s ethymologically a plural, originally “gens d’armes”).
And yes, there are many cases of rivalry between the police and the gendarmerie, sometimes resulting in (deliberatly or involuntarily?) one police force messing up with the operations of another. But then, there are similar situations between two different police units too.
Sorry for the long post. I happen to have some interest in the gendarmerie. I would add that IMO, most french people aren’t really aware of the differences, nor of the gendarmerie’s duties. For most practical purpose, the only difference for the average citizen is that gendarmerie is to be found in the countryside (and along the roads), and police in towns.