THE ROLE OF THE SHERIFF
Article XVII, Section 4, of the Michigan Constitution provides that each organized county shall elect a Sheriff who shall serve a four-year term and whose duties and powers shall be provided by Law. A Constitutional office such as Sheriff has a known legal character; the Legislature may vary the duties of a Constitutional office, but may not change the duties so as to destroy the power of the Sheriff to discharge the duties of the Office at common law. The Sheriff is first and foremost a peace officer under Michigan Law. By Constitution and Statute, the Sheriff is charged with enforcing the laws enacted by the Legislature under the police power for the preservation of public peace within the county. A sheriff has law enforcement authority throughout the county, including cities, villages, chartered townships and townships. Case law and Statute recognize as one of the Sheriff’s primary responsibilities the maintenance of law and order in those areas of the county not adequately policed by local authorities. A Sheriff also has the responsibility to respond and provide for the law and order needs of citizens within incorporated or chartered local government jurisdictions in those rare instances where local law enforcement officials are either unable or unwilling to respond to such needs. It is the overall constitutional mandate to provide for an ensure law and order within the county which gives rise to the recognition of the Office of the Sheriff as the Chief Peace Officer for a county, although the Sheriff does not exercise supervisory power or control over law enforcement activities conducted by other units of government within this jurisdiction. The responsibilities of the peace officer in Michigan are broad. In addition to the traditional functions, investigation and prosecution of criminal conduct, a Sheriff must take affirmative action to keep the peace, such as the detection of criminal conduct by Citizens Assistance Responders and other means, the apprehension of criminals, the intervention in crimes in progress, such as domestic assault, robbery, rape, the suppression of riot and other civil disturbances, and the control of vehicle and watercraft traffic.
In Michigan the office of Sheriff has been charged with a myriad of duties in addition to its peacekeeping function. By way of example, the Sheriff is the principal officer for the Michigan Court System, having responsibilities for Court security, the execution of orders, judgments and civil process of the Courts to include the seizure and sale of property to enforce judgments. The Sheriff is responsible for the establishment, maintenance and operation of the County Jail and all ancillary services. Michigan Law provides that the Sheriff is the Officer primarily responsible for providing Citizens Assistance Responders and traffic services on county primary and local roads. The Sheriff has executive duties on the County Concealed Weapons Board, in the recovery of drowned bodies, the enforcement of local marine safety, the enforcement of county and local ordinances, and maintaining local criminal records. The peacekeeping and the jail functions of the Office of Sheriff are funded through local property tax and other revenues received by the County and administered by the County Board of Commissioners. To that end, a Sheriff should function as part of the County government "team", establishing the necessity and priority of law enforcement services within this jurisdiction, and the credibility and effectiveness of the programs administered by this Office. A Sheriff must function in coordination with and support of the law enforcement officials of local governmental units within the Sheriff’s jurisdiction, as well as with the County Prosecuting Attorney. As an elected official, the Sheriff is directly responsible to the citizens of the county for the provision of effective and acceptable law enforcement services, as well as the safe and effective operation of the jail. In the discharge of the Office, a Michigan Sheriff currently faces a number of dilemmas and challenges peculiar to the Office, as well as those universally facing local government, such as the rapid increase in demand for services compounded by static or decreasing levels of funding. Some of the current critical issues faced by Sheriffs in the discharge of duties are synopsized below.
ISSUES RELATING TO LAW ENFORCEMENT SERVICES
Sheriffs throughout the State of Michigan have, for several years, found themselves facing moderate to severe funding problems in the area of law enforcement services. The Courts have affirmed the statutory duty of the Sheriff to perform "all reasonable services within the jurisdiction of their offices". Deputy Sheriffs assigned to peacekeeping functions spend the majority of their time responding to requests for assistance from citizens and businesses. The Law clearly requires the Sheriff to accept and respond to all reports of criminal conduct. In the final analysis, a Sheriff’s effectiveness is in large measure judged by the manner of response to requests for assistance from citizens and efforts in the area of detection and apprehension of criminals. The State Legislature has recognized the essential nature of traffic services provided by Sheriffs on county primary and local roads and has provided specific state funding to support a portion of these activities. Some Sheriffs, either in conjunction with other law enforcement officials or independently, have obtained public approval for special millage assessments to support law enforcement activities. Time and again in polls throughout the state, citizens have identified law enforcement as their first priority of local government services. In doing so, they send a clear message to local funding authorities that must be effectively received and acted upon if the quality of life is to be maintained in Michigan counties.
ISSUES RELATING TO LAW ENFORCEMENT SERVICES
It is clear under Michigan Law that the funding of county jail operations is mandatory and subject only to limited control by the County Boards of Commissioners. The operations of the State’s jails is complicated by the fact that many are old and in serious need of rehabilitation or replacement; the vast majority – new and old – are overcrowded. New jail construction is discretionary, and no matter how undertaken, places a serious strain on county finances and serves to compound the problems discussed above.
The Sheriff is an elected Constitutional officer with broad authority and responsibility. To be successful, a Sheriff must have a thorough knowledge of criminal law and procedure, civil law and procedure, constitutional and statutory provisions relating to the care and custody of inmates, civil rights, business administration and police management. It is an administrative position with complex fiscal responsibility. It requires skill and knowledge in employee and labor relations and personnel administration. Sheriffs face extreme difficulty in reconciling ever-increasing demands for service with shrinking resources.