Friday, May 27, 2011

Apple #526: Sheriff vs. Police

I have received another request!  Regular Daily Apple reader Geronimo and I happened to walk past a sheriff's car yesterday, and Geronimo said, "Here's a Daily Apple for you.  What's the difference between the sheriff and the regular police?  And state police, too?"

He went on to say that in Westerns, the sheriff used to be one guy in charge of all the deputies in town.  But since there are lots of cars marked Sheriff and lots more cars marked for the police department driving all over our city, it seems like the Sheriff is no longer just one guy but lots of people.  But are the sheriffs in charge of the police officers, or what are their roles?  And what about the state police, too?

Geronimo, I have your answer.
  • Essentially, the differences boil down to jurisdictions.
      • Police: local city or town or municipality
      • Sheriff: county
      • State police: state
  • There are, of course, more details about the differences in their duties and how they operate.

Local Police

The Texas City, Texas, Police Department.  Their sub-units include patrol, SWAT, Crime Scene Investigation, Criminal Investigation, and K-9 units.  A police department this large probably wouldn't need much help from a sheriff's office.  But a smaller town with a smaller police force might.
(Photo from the Texas City Police Department)

  • Local police patrol within a city or a town.  Within the city or town limits, they are supposed to maintain public safety, cite or arrest people if necessary, and provide safety education to people who live there. 
  • They may also have specialized sub-departments such as bomb squads or riot police.  But these sub-departments, again, will only operate within the city limits.
  • Most police departments, however, are quite small.  The majority of police departments employ10 or fewer officers.
    • Local police officers' salaries are paid out of the town or city budget.
    • Local police report to the Police Chief, who is appointed.  Usually it's the mayor who does the appointing, but sometimes it's a city commissioner or board of city leaders. 
    • Local police officers usually wear blue.


      All these people -- and the dog -- work for the Sheriff's Office in Montcour County, PA.  The guy in the middle wearing the suit, the one who looks like a crime boss, is the Sheriff, Ray C. Gerringer.  Everybody else is some type of deputy.
      (Photo from Montcour County)

      • Sheriffs operate at the county level.  So they generally patrol outside city limits, in the more rural parts of a county.  They can, however, go into the jurisdiction of the local police (into town) to perform their jobs.
      • Some towns may ask sheriffs to act as their local police and patrol their town.  Instead of forming their own police department, they'll pay the county sheriff's office for police patrol.
      • Strangely, even though sheriffs operate at the county level, they are created, so to speak, by a state's constitution.  The state constitution is where a sheriff's duties and responsibilities are outlined.

      The person driving this car may not be the actual sheriff.  At the very least, he or she works for the sheriff's office.
      (Photo from GaramChai)

      • There is only one Sheriff.  Everybody else who works in the sheriff's office is a deputy of some kind.
      • The Sheriff is an elected official.
      • Sheriff's offices may also act as a coroner's office.  
          • Coroners, by the way, also act at a county level. They are sort of the Keeper of Death-Paperwork.  They investigate suspicious deaths, determine or declare causes of death, issue death certificates, must be present at cremations, and they may perform or hire services such as autopsies or toxicology testing. 
      • Another side note: the word "sheriff" comes from the Old English "shire reeve."  The reeve was the law-keeper who worked for the King or whoever was in charge of the shire.  I was hoping to find an explanation for why the word has only one r and two f's, but the etymology didn't help much. In fact, the etymology would suggest even more strongly that the word should have two r's instead of one.  But who ever said that English spellings made sense?

        State Police

        These are state police troopers from West Virginia.  If you see some sort of police official wearing a hat in that funny shape (it's called Campaign style), you'll know they're a state trooper.
        (Photo by the West Virginia State Police)

        • State police work for the state.  So everything they do lives at the state level.
        • State police chiefs are appointed by the governor.
        • State troopers are generally associated with highway patrol, and they do a lot of that.
        • There might be a special sub-unit within the state police that's assigned to highway patrol.  Those highway patrol units will be assigned, not to highways across the whole state, but to specific sections of highway within the state.  The State of California Highway Patrol (CHiPs), for example, has units assigned to patrol highways in and around LA County.

        Ponch and Jon were actually state troopers working for the California Highway Patrol.  I used to have a major crush on Jon.
        (Photo posted by BigMac at Metal Banned)

        • State troopers may also investigate drug trafficking, organized crime, human trafficking, illegal immigration, or other wide-ranging activities that encompass lots of territory within a state or involve transporting lots of things or people over highways. 
        • State troopers are also the ones who monitor highway weigh stations.
        • They may step in to help local police or even county sheriff's office in time of need.  They may help with particularly difficult criminal investigations, or they may help in times of disaster relief, or during search and rescue efforts.
        • Because state police are funded at the state level, and because they are often involved in more extensive detective investigations, they tend to have the best equipment or the most specially trained units of any police force in the state.
        • State troopers may also help protect high-ranking state officials, or state property, or people or places in rural areas that don't have much of a police presence.
        • Generally speaking, state trooper departments are very large.  They average around 2,000 people per state.
        • State troopers usually wear brown.  And the funny hats.

          A whole bunch of police.
          (Photo from the Sun Sentinel)

          No, not these guys:

          They're a different operation altogether.
          (Photo from Graphics Hunt)

          Not the Dream Police, either.  (Song starts at 1:00)

          Broward County Sheriff's Office, What's the difference between a sheriff's office and the police department?
          Wise Geek, What is the Difference Between a Sheriff and a Police Officer?
, Difference Between Police dept and Sheriff's dept
          Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, What is the difference between a Police Officer, Highway Patrol Officer, and a Sheriff's Deputy?
          FAQ, Trivia and Information on Life in America: Ask A Desi, Sheriff and Police
          HowStuffWorks, How State Troopers Work
          The Chippewa Herald, What does a coroner do?
          Q and As Career: What Does a Coroner Do?

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