Sheriffs are elected law enforcement officials who operate in each county. Their responsibilities are similar to police officers, except with wider territorial jurisdiction. Sheriffs can provide public, searchable records, including criminal records, arrest records, and in some cases court documents and records.
The sheriff’s department has many responsibilities, which may vary widely by county. In some counties, the sheriff’s responsibilities are limited to operating county jails and providing courtroom security and record management.
In other counties, the sheriff and his deputies may be responsible for patrolling roadways, investigating crimes, crowd control at public events, delivering official documents in civil cases, searching court records, and evicting tenants from rental properties. Regardless of their specific duties, sheriffs have the legal authority to investigate and arrest anyone that commits a crime in their jurisdiction, regardless of whether he or she has a prior police record or not.
In counties with multiple police departments, a sheriff's department serves as the leading law enforcement agency and coordinates the efforts of other agencies during major criminal investigations or public disasters. In small towns and municipalities, the sheriff is often responsible for all law enforcement and public order duties. And, in a large county, the sheriff is often responsible for patrolling highways, traffic control, and enforcement of traffic offenses such as speeding violations, DUI and DWI arrests, and may also impound vehicles.
The sheriff and his or her deputies also investigate serious crimes such as burglary, homicide, arson, and other personal and property crimes. Many sheriffs operate special units devoted to investigating specific types of crimes or providing services not offered by local police departments. In many cases, these special units focus on investigating and apprehending criminals who prey on local citizens but operate beyond the reach of local police departments.
They also have fugitive-apprehension units focused on finding criminals with serious jail records who have been released on bail bonds and committed other crimes. For example, the sheriff may have a victim services unit that provides outreach services to domestic abuse victims or an Internet crimes unit focused on identifying and apprehending online pedophiles and deviant predators, even those operating across jurisdictional lines.
Since sheriffs also work closely with district attorneys, they may be called to present evidence (including arrest and criminal records) during depositions and testify during a defendant’s trial.
The sheriff also coordinates with federal law enforcement agencies on local and regional investigations. These include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
The sheriff is held to the same high standard of conduct as other law enforcement officials. A sheriff is responsible for making that each suspect understands his or her constitutional rights during questioning, and must also comply with all Constitutional protections, such as the Fourth Amendment's restrictions on unreasonable search and seizure.
Most sheriff departments have one central office, and stations strategically located throughout the county, providing access to the inmate, court and arrest records they maintain. You can find the nearest sheriff office in this directory.