Criminal Law

We Surveyed America’s Sheriffs. Their Views Might Shock You.

Over the past decade, debates about police violence, mass incarceration and different felony justice points have usually targeted on police chiefs and prosecutors. However sheriffs demand equal consideration. In an more and more partisan America, they foyer state legislatures and Congress. They run jails and perform evictions. They determine how aggressively to analyze and arrest folks on issues starting from weapons to elections to immigration. They usually could form how new abortion legal guidelines play out on the native degree.

Most sheriffs are elected, and a whole lot are on the poll this November. Progressives are selling candidates who promise to make jails safer and go away immigration enforcement to the federal authorities. Conservatives more and more see sheriffs as standard-bearers in fights over weapons, immigration and voting, and it’s common to see them on Fox Information or standing on a rally stage subsequent to former President Donald Trump.

To make sense of this mix of policing and politics, we performed an unique, wide-ranging survey with two of America’s main scholarly consultants on sheriffs, Emily Farris of Texas Christian College and Mirya Holman of Tulane College. We acquired solutions from greater than 500 sheriffs — roughly 1 in 6 nationwide. (Examine our methodology under.)

Among the many takeaways, we discovered that sheriffs — the overwhelming majority of whom are White and male, in line with a earlier research — are additionally much more conservative than Individuals as an entire, and largely approve of Trump’s efficiency as president.

The place would you place your self on an ideological scale?

398 respondents answered this query.

Do you approve or disapprove of the job efficiency of…

Donald Trump, whereas he was in workplace?

398 respondents answered this query.

Joe Biden?

397 respondents answered this query.

Supply: The Marshall Mission with Emily Farris (Texas Christian College) and Mirya Holman (Tulane College), 2021

Different findings embrace:

  • Many subscribe to a notion widespread on the precise that, of their counties, their energy supersedes that of the governor or the president. (Extra on that in an accompanying story.)

  • Most imagine mass protests like these towards the 2020 police homicide of George Floyd are motivated by bias towards legislation enforcement.

  • They’re ceaselessly open to some adjustments championed by the felony justice reform motion, together with a federal authorities system to trace officers accused of misconduct and police trainings in nonviolent alternate options to lethal drive.

We gave respondents the chance to reply with out revealing their identify publicly, but in addition gave them the choice to speak with us in follow-up interviews. We spoke to 17 sheriffs about their responses. Every sheriff spoke concerning the distinctive nature of their energy as elected legislation enforcement officers. As Sheriff Tim Leslie of Dakota County, Minnesota (inhabitants 442,000), put it: “Everybody’s your boss; nobody’s your boss.”

How We Received Sheriffs

The US inherited the workplace of sheriff from England, the place kings appointed them to implement orders and acquire taxes. Within the 1600s, North American colonists who needed to undermine the crown’s energy started electing their very own sheriffs. Many states finally wrote the place into their constitutions.

On the Western frontier, a sheriff is perhaps the primary elected official in a newly settled space, and would enlist citizen “posses” to assist him hold the peace internally — and assault outsiders. “Sheriffs typically served as the primary or solely legislation enforcement representatives as settlers engaged within the genocide of Native Individuals and Mexican residents,” Farris and Holman write in a forthcoming e-book about sheriffs based mostly on surveys and a decade of analysis.

Within the South, sheriffs’ authority was intimately linked to slavery. Should you escaped the plantation, the sheriff is perhaps the one chasing you. After the Civil Struggle, the Jim Crow-era legal guidelines often called “Black codes” allowed sheriffs to arrest Black women and men for minor violations like loitering and “rambling with no job” and rent them out to personal firms. This so-called “convict leasing” was basically a continuation of slavery.

We Surveyed America’s Sheriffs. Their Views Might Shock You.

Historians have discovered that sheriffs ceaselessly intimidated Black voters, and facilitated lynchings, typically by permitting mobs to abduct folks from their jails. The sheriff was among the many most seen public opponents of civil rights advances — “employed by the Republic to maintain the Republic [W]hite,” as James Baldwin put it in his 1987 essay “To Crush a Serpent.” Progressive activists see echoes of that historical past in the truth that, as of 2020, 90% of sheriffs had been nonetheless White males, in line with the progressive Reflective Democracy Marketing campaign.

Right now, some county sheriffs proceed to extract labor from the folks they detain. A couple of, like Sheriff Wayne Ivey of Brevard County, Florida, nonetheless function chain gangs. However their energy stems extra broadly from their function because the administrator of the county jail, which may account for a good portion of a county’s funds.

Most Individuals fund their sheriffs by taxes, however sheriffs additionally assist themselves by fines and costs. This has ceaselessly led to accusations that they’re financially motivated to problem visitors tickets or overcharge folks of their jails for meals, cellphone calls and different requirements.

Final 12 months, a pair of progressive organizations discovered that conflicts of curiosity are widespread: Sheriffs can obtain marketing campaign contributions from the very firms that contract with them for providers like jail medical care and detainee transportation. Farris and Holman argue elections are sometimes uncompetitive as a result of sheriffs have a capability to “manipulate” the pool of candidates and “hold it shallow,” citing examples through which sheriffs fired deputies who introduced campaigns towards them. Whereas police chiefs usually serve for as much as six years, political scientist Michael Zoorob discovered lately that the typical sheriff serves for roughly 11 years, and infrequently runs uncontested.

What Sheriffs Do

When you’re elected sheriff, it may be a steep studying curve. “All you want, in Minnesota and most states, is 50 bucks and a peace officer license” to run for the workplace, Leslie famous. “It’s your electability.” Farris and Holman discovered that solely 18 states require sheriffs to have specific {qualifications} or expertise — typically set by sheriffs themselves, by their very own associations. Most of our respondents have gone to school, however are much less more likely to have a grasp’s diploma than police chiefs.

The job can fluctuate broadly. In Cook dinner County (inhabitants 5.17 million), which encompasses Chicago, Sheriff Tom Dart oversees as many as 9,000 detainees a day at a jail he has beforehand known as the nation’s “largest de facto facility for psychological sicknesses.”

Against this, Sheriff Sharon Wehrly of Nye County, Nevada (inhabitants. 53,500), oversees round 190 detainees, however her deputies police greater than 18,000 sq. miles. She stated it takes her as much as 5 hours to drive throughout her jurisdiction.

Farris and Holman have discovered sheriffs usually tend to patrol rural areas and have a tendency to have extra duties within the West and South than the Northeast and Midwest. Many sheriffs’ workplaces are tiny, using fewer than 25 sworn officers, in line with the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. Most sheriffs run jails and oversee deputies on patrol, however Farris and Holman have documented a stunning vary of different roles, from working summer season camps to rescuing injured birds to looking cougars.

Does your workplace oversee or present any of the next providers?

Respondents might select multiple response.

534 respondents answered this query.
Supply: The Marshall Mission with Emily Farris (Texas Christian College) and Mirya Holman (Tulane College), 2021

The survey respondents we interviewed did acknowledge their energy and longevity, however argued that each stemmed from their deep relationships with their communities. “Sheriffs must really feel the heartbeat of the residents that voted them in there,” stated James Hammond, who retired as sheriff of Hamilton County, Tennessee (inhabitants 369,100), earlier this 12 months. “For essentially the most half, they develop up across the those who elect them.” Whereas many police chiefs hop from metropolis to metropolis, greater than half of sheriffs in our survey went to highschool within the counties they now serve.

Did you’re employed in your county’s sheriff workplace previous to serving as sheriff?

486 respondents answered this query.

Did you attend highschool in the identical county that you simply now function sheriff?

494 respondents answered this query.

Supply: The Marshall Mission with Emily Farris (Texas Christian College) and Mirya Holman (Tulane College), 2021

“Folks will name me if it’s a neighbor dispute, a child with a conduct drawback, [or] a member of the family with an dependancy drawback,” stated Sheriff Chuck Jenkins of Frederick County, Maryland (inhabitants 279,800). Why do they arrive to him? “I feel it goes again to a little bit little bit of romanticism with the function of the sheriff,” Jenkins stated, noting that he nonetheless watches “The Andy Griffith Present,” the Sixties sitcom concerning the kindly sheriff of fictional Mayberry, North Carolina, who helps resolve native quarrels.

Andy Griffith, a White man with short dark brown hair and wearing a sheriff's uniform, playing Andy Taylor on "The Andy Griffith Show".
Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, a White man, sits in a brown sheriff's uniform at his desk in his office.

From left: Actor Andy Griffth within the function of Andy Taylor (CBS Picture Archive, by way of Getty Photographs); Frederick County, Maryland, Sheriff Chuck Jenkins.

Sheriffs on Immigration

However does everybody really feel they will name Jenkins? He champions aggressive immigration enforcement on Fox Information. His workplace is certainly one of greater than 140 businesses nationwide within the 287(g) program, which permits native legislation enforcement businesses to help the federal authorities’s efforts to detain and deport undocumented immigrants.

Final 12 months, Jenkins settled a lawsuit with a Latina motorist who believed she’d been racially profiled and wrongfully detained by his deputies. “You’ve my honest apology for the occasions that occurred throughout that visitors cease and any worry that they might have brought on you,” Jenkins wrote to the lady in an official letter, promising higher coaching for deputies.

In our survey, most sheriffs proved hawkish on immigration.They need the federal authorities to spend extra on border safety.

Federal spending on tightening border safety and stopping unlawful immigration needs to be elevated.

449 respondents answered this query.
Supply: The Marshall Mission with Emily Farris (Texas Christian College) and Mirya Holman (Tulane College), 2021

Coverage views typically stem from private opinions. Farris and Holman included inquiries to measure resentment of immigrants and different teams, based mostly on a scale developed by students on the nonpartisan American Nationwide Election Research. We discovered as many as 1 in 4 sheriffs believed that some immigrants — even these with authorized standing — take extra from the USA than they bring about to it.

Immigrants in the present day reap the benefits of jobs and alternatives right here with out doing sufficient to present again to the group.

373 respondents answered this query.

Irish, Italians, Jewish and lots of different minorities overcame prejudice and labored their approach up. Right now’s immigrants ought to have the ability to do the identical with none particular favors.

367 respondents answered this query.

Supply: The Marshall Mission with Emily Farris (Texas Christian College) and Mirya Holman (Tulane College), 2021

These opinions assist clarify why many sheriffs have performed such an enthusiastic function in immigration enforcement. Farris and Holman have discovered that when sheriffs maintain unfavourable views of immigrants, they’re extra more likely to advise deputies to test ​​the immigration standing of crime victims, witnesses, visitors violators or folks arrested for non-violent crimes.

When your officers encounter people who is perhaps unauthorized immigrants in every of the next conditions, do they usually test their immigration standing with Immigration and Customs Enforcement?

Supply: The Marshall Mission with Emily Farris (Texas Christian College) and Mirya Holman (Tulane College), 2021

These findings replicate a broader actuality concerning the energy of sheriffs: How they see the world shapes their coverage preferences. As Farris and Holman put it, “If the sheriff doesn’t like your group, he’s structuring hiring, coaching and coverage in his workplace to punish you.”

Sheriffs on Policing

From Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 to Minneapolis in 2020, racial justice protests have tended to coalesce round killings of Black folks by cops, somewhat than sheriff’s deputies. However typically a loss of life in a county jail — the place the sheriff is the chief to carry accountable — will spark native protests, and even inspire folks to problem the sheriff of their subsequent election.

In our survey, sheriffs principally took a skeptical line in direction of these protests, seeing them as motivated partially by a “longstanding bias” towards legislation enforcement.

As chances are you’ll know, demonstrations have been held in lots of components of the nation lately to protest the deaths of African Individuals who died throughout encounters with the police. How a lot, if in any respect, do you suppose these protests have been motivated by…

A real want to carry officers accountable for his or her actions?

398 respondents answered this query.

A longstanding bias towards the police?

397 respondents answered this query.

Supply: The Marshall Mission with Emily Farris (Texas Christian College) and Mirya Holman (Tulane College), 2021

These views seem to stem from a elementary disagreement with protesters concerning the foundation for the protests: 4 out of 5 sheriffs thought deaths of Black folks throughout encounters with police had been “remoted incidents” somewhat than “indicators of a broader drawback.”

Do you suppose the deaths of African Individuals throughout encounters with police lately are:

389 respondents answered this query.
Supply: The Marshall Mission with Emily Farris (Texas Christian College) and Mirya Holman (Tulane College), 2021

And zooming out, most sheriffs suppose racial inequality is an issue that’s been solved. Seventy eight p.c agreed extra with the concept “our nation has made the adjustments wanted to present [B]lacks equal rights with [W]hites,” whereas the remaining thought we wanted to proceed making adjustments. (Most Individuals, in line with the Pew Analysis Heart, see issues the other approach.)

As with immigration, opinions form coverage; should you don’t see a systemic drawback, you most likely gained’t favor a systemic answer. Sheriffs in our survey principally opposed civilian oversight of their workplaces or making it against the law to make use of a chokehold just like the one Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin used to homicide George Floyd.

On the similar time, they don’t seem to be uniformly against sure adjustments. Coaching in non-violent techniques fared effectively, as did the concept of a federal database to trace officers accused of misconduct.

Do you prefer any of the next insurance policies?

Respondents might select multiple response.

368 respondents answered this query.
Supply: The Marshall Mission with Emily Farris (Texas Christian College) and Mirya Holman (Tulane College), 2021

A few of these views could replicate their managerial function: a database would possibly assist them determine who to rent, and extra coaching could lower the danger of civilian deaths below their watch, together with the lawsuits that may observe.

Sheriff Frank Gomez of rural Grant County, New Mexico (inhabitants 27,900), stated coaching his workers to de-escalate doubtlessly violent conditions is particularly useful given how typically his half-dozen deputies are alone of their 4,000-square-mile jurisdiction: “Backup’s not coming for 10 or quarter-hour — the very last thing you wish to do is suppose that that badge is larger than your head.”

There’s additionally a monetary incentive: Extra instruments and types of coaching can imply a much bigger funds. “These reforms have been absorbed into their considering as a result of which means cash,” stated Jessica Pishko, a former researcher on the College of South Carolina Legislation College and creator of “The Highest Legislation within the Land,” a forthcoming e-book on sheriffs.

The Sheriff as Political Movie star

In 2011, then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, made nationwide headlines for questioning the veracity of then-president Barack Obama’s beginning certificates. Then Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke grew to become a fixture on Fox Information, speaking about all the things from crime charges to Beyoncé’s outfits. Each grew to become allies of Donald Trump, who recurrently hosted sheriffs on the White Home and paved a street from the native to nationwide highlight.

President Donald Trump, a White man, holds a plaque as more than a dozen people stand next to him or behind him at The White House, clapping or smiling.

Sheriffs have lengthy been in a position to exert a form of mushy energy by sharing views on native radio reveals and their very own Fb pages. Some could do that to get on the nationwide media radar. Others say they wish to clarify how nationwide points are enjoying out regionally, which may scale back the hostility stirred up by extra well-known politicians. “I’m all for border safety,” stated Sheriff Greg Graver of Jones County, Iowa (inhabitants 20,800). “But additionally, we’ve received Mexican eating places: Don’t disrespect these folks since you’re listening to on the information that they’re rapists and murderers.”

Nonetheless others stated they use public statements to check how their communities actually really feel about new points. “It’s necessary for us to dip our toe within the water each from time to time,” stated Sheriff Mike Murphy of Livingston County, Michigan (inhabitants 195,000). “Belief me, I’ve had my share of backlash from issues that I’ve stated or achieved, and…I take a look at that and go, ‘OK, effectively perhaps that’s not likely what the group is searching for.’” (Murphy confronted criticism final 12 months when his workplace investigated a girl whose tweets attacked one other girl for spreading COVID-19 misinformation. Prosecutors by no means filed costs.)

However lately, sheriffs have been in search of larger workplace. Former sheriff Mike Parson is the governor of Missouri, whereas others have run to characterize components of Arizona, California, Mississippi and Texas in Congress. Many are constructing nationwide manufacturers by hewing intently to Trump; a number of have introduced investigations into voting throughout the 2020 election.

It’s potential some sheriffs will acquire extra public consideration from the left; already these in New Orleans and San Antonio have introduced they gained’t implement new abortion bans.

Our survey was accomplished in late-2021, and now, every month it appears a sheriff weighs in on a topic we didn’t suppose to ask them about. However a few of our findings do make clear why sheriffs really feel so emboldened to enter nationwide coverage debates. It’s not simply that they’re aligning themselves for or towards presidents. More and more, many see themselves as extra highly effective, inside their very own counties, than whoever is occupying the White Home.


Marshall Mission reporter Maurice Chammah obtained a listing from the Nationwide Sheriffs’ Affiliation with the e-mail addresses of 1,770 members. Political scientists Mirya Holman and Emily Farris used state sheriff affiliation directories and web searches to enhance the listing with new data and extra correct data, leading to 3,005 e mail addresses in complete. (Most estimates of sheriffs place the whole quantity round 3,000, consistent with the roughly 3,200 counties within the U.S.)

Holman and Farris emailed these sheriffs in November 2021, with 4 follow-up e mail reminders over three weeks, and used web searches to determine different contact data in circumstances the place emails bounced again as undeliverable. 832 sheriffs workplaces opened the hyperlink to the survey, 576 answered at the least one query on the survey and 439 noticed each query within the survey, in line with the platform used to conduct the analysis.

We calculated percentages based mostly on the variety of sheriffs who clicked at the least one possibility for a given query. These percentages don’t account for sheriffs who declined to reply, or, in circumstances with a number of choices, didn’t choose any of the given choices. Questions have a unique variety of respondents who chosen at the least one possibility, various from 303 to 534, with a median of 397 respondents.

Following institutional evaluate board approval at Texas Christian College and Tulane College, sheriffs had been promised anonymity however given the choice of agreeing to a follow-up interview, and in these circumstances the sheriffs allowed their responses to the survey to be on-the-record.

The responding sheriffs hail from locations that broadly replicate the demographics of the typical American county. The typical inhabitants of counties represented by the survey is 57,261, in contrast with 61,474 nationally, in line with the U.S. Census. The typical proportion of every racial group, for survey counties, was 82% White, 8% Latino and seven% Black, whereas for U.S. counties total they’re 79% White, 8% Latino and 9% Black. In response to 464 responding sheriffs, their common age is 54.8 years outdated. (The U.S. Census considers Latino or Hispanic “ethnicity” separate from race; “Latino” right here refers to folks of any race with Latino or Hispanic ethnicity.)

To match the political opinions of responding sheriffs and the counties they serve to the U.S. as an entire, Farris and Holman used knowledge from the MIT Election Information + Science Lab. Within the counties represented by these sheriffs, 38% of voters, on common, voted for Joe Biden for president in 2020, in contrast with 36% in U.S. counties total, in line with the MIT Election Archive.

County populations talked about within the story had been taken from the U.S. Census Inhabitants Estimates, July, 1 2021.

Because of quantity rounding, some percentages in charts don’t add as much as exactly 100%.

Edited by Akiba Solomon. Design by Bo-Received Keum. Improvement by Katie Park. Information graphics by Anastasia Valeeva, David Eads, and Katie Park. Picture analysis and enhancing by Celina Fang, Marci Suela, and Bo-Received Keum.

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