The citizens they serve and protect elect the Sheriffs in Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City. Sheriffs are the only law enforcement officials in the state who answer directly to the people.
Their proud heritage of service to the people of Maryland can be traced back to 1634 when the first Sheriff’s Office in America was established in St. Mary’s County. Those first Sheriffs were appointed. However, since 1776, with the exception of a period between the War of 1812 and 1867, Maryland’s Constitution has required that all Sheriffs be elected. In 1925, the General Assembly lengthened the Sheriff’s term of office from two to four years, a change that remains in effect today
Regardless of their primary duties, Sheriffs remain the State’s chief law enforcement officials wherever they serve. This authority to represent the sovereignty of the State dates back to a time when the Sheriff was the King’s man in the shires of medieval England.
In the 21st century, the duties of the Sheriff fall into three main categories; Law Enforcement, Court Duties and Civil Process and Correctional Facility Administration.
Today, Sheriffs remain the primary law enforcement official in many Maryland communities. The state’s 24 Sheriffs and their more than 1,600 deputies are sworn police officers, graduates of certified police academies, and have the same powers as other Maryland law enforcement officials to make arrests and detain lawbreakers.
In unincorporated areas of the State, the Sheriff frequently provides all law enforcement services. In other jurisdictions, the Sheriff’s primary law enforcement duties may be limited to routine patrol and accident and criminal investigation.
However, even in jurisdictions where other organizations, such as the county or State police, have primary law enforcement responsibilities, Sheriffs retain their police powers. This means Sheriffs and their deputies will respond anytime, anywhere, they observe the commission of a crime or see a citizen in need of assistance.
Like their counterparts in law enforcement organizations throughout the nation, today’s Sheriffs have a need for specialized training and equipment to meet the challenges of modern police work. Some of the specialized skills Maryland Sheriffs have developed to better serve the citizens in their jurisdictions are expertise in emergency medicine, special weapons and tactics, computer and radar technology, SCUBA diving, aviation, boating, communications and facility with foreign languages.
Court Duties and Civil Process
Sheriffs maintain the safety and security of Maryland’s courts. A Sheriff or deputy may be required to attend all court sessions; to act as bailiff; to take charge of juries whenever they are outside the courtroom and to extradite prisoners. Today’s Sheriffs, like their historical counterparts, also carry out such unenviable but necessary court-related functions as serving subpoenas, summonses, warrants, writs or civil process; enforcing money decrees (such as those relating to child support payments, garnishment of wages or sale of property); and collecting taxes.
Correctional Facility Administration
Maintaining detention facilities and their populations is a challenge faced by many Maryland Sheriffs. Complying with today’s strict prison standards in often overcrowded and sometimes outdated facilities make the job even tougher. Whether those being detained are simply waiting for a hearing or trial or “serving time,” incarcerating them requires specially trained supervisory and support staff.
While several counties throughout the State have constructed, or in the process of constructing, modern jails, other jurisdictions still have to make do with older facilities. Regardless of the facility, Maryland’s Sheriffs are committed to the safety and welfare of the inmates that have been entrusted to them. This commitment is earning Sheriffs and their departments increased respect and recognition as jail administration professionals.