Recently, I have been asked by law enforcement agencies to outline the duties and responsibilities of the county sheriff. I wrote about this issue last year. However, it seems that there is a stronger interest in this extremely important political, legal, and law enforcement position.
In Georgia, the position of sheriff has always been a well-known public figure. The top “law man” in each county has often been remembered long after their death. Jack Bell of Carroll County and Earl Lee of Douglas County come to mind when I think of larger than life law men of the past.
While some folks believe that the sheriff is responsible for solving every alleged crime within the county limits, the General Assembly has enacted law that provides for the legal duties of the sheriff that are clearly defined. While this is not an all-inclusive list, some of the most important duties are listed in O.C.G.A. 42-4-4 which provides in part that:
(a) It shall be the duty of the sheriff:
(1) To take from the outgoing sheriff custody of the jail and the bodies of such persons as are confined therein, along with the warrant or cause of commitment. (This means that the main legal obligation of the sheriff is administering the county jail facility and act as custodian of the inmates located in the jail);
(2) To furnish persons confined in the jail with medical aid, heat, and blankets. (This simply goes along with the responsibility of being the custodian of the jail facility);
(3) To take all persons arrested or in execution under any criminal or civil process to the jail of an adjoining county, or to the jail of some other county if the latter is more accessible, if the jail of his county is in an unsafe condition. (Some inmates who are vulnerable to physical harm because of the nature of their alleged crimes, their physical or mental condition, or their behavioral health can be moved to another jail or appropriate facility. This is sometimes done to protect the inmate, other inmates, and jail personnel.)
Again, this is not an all-inclusive list of activities performed by the sheriff and his personnel. Issues like courthouse safety, assignments of patrol divisions, budgeting, are all very important functions as well, but are too lengthy to be discussed in such a short column.
The sheriff is also a formidable political figure in the community. Like our judges and state representatives, the sheriff is elected by the people.
My favorite aspect of the activities I see our local sheriffs engage in is the unofficial service they provide to our people. Most of them engage in high levels of community service. This includes speaking to children about the dangers of drugs, alcohol, gangs, and other types of dangerous behavior. Many sheriffs will voluntarily serve on community based nonprofit boards of organizations like soup kitchens and methamphetamine awareness groups. There are many other examples of service to the community as well.
On a personal level, I appreciate the helpful staff employed by our local sheriffs when I need to visit a client who is in jail. The county jails in the west Georgia area offer a safe environment for an attorney to meet with a client and the staff have always been accommodating during the attorney/client conference. This is essential to us attorneys in order to provide effective representation to people accused of crimes.