The History and Duties of the Michigan Sheriff


From biblical times through medieval times and from our wild west to the present day, the sheriff has been a constant feature of local government and society. The sheriff is a law enforcement officer to be sure but they are required to be so much more. By virtue of how the sheriff is chosen, they must be attuned to the community that they serve in a way that no other law enforcement official can match.

The history of the sheriff’s office in Michigan begins in 1788. Gregor McGregor served as Wayne County sheriff under British rule. There are two counties, Isle Royal County and Manitou County, which were organized in the mid to late 1800s which had sheriffs but these counties no longer exist. (Eichman, Eichman 1997) The Michigan sheriff is presents an enigma of sorts. The office of sheriff is well known because of its high profile and the local political nature of the selection of the sheriff; however, the duties, obligations and responsibilities of the office of sheriff are not common knowledge. The responsibilities of the office of sheriff are wide-ranging and complicated. The vast array of legal and political concerns surrounding the sheriff causes dilemmas for every sheriff. Sheriffs are elected officials but are duty bound to enforce laws on the citizens who elected him or her. In order to become a sheriff, a person must be popular in the community but to remain true to the legal obligations the sheriff must enforce the laws of the land. This task is often unpopular by necessity. This is compounded because Deputies are autonomous and their behavior determines the electoral future of the sheriff. The ethical considerations of the sheriff will be the focus of this paper along with a study in the history, and development of the office of sheriff.

History and development of the office of Sheriff

The earliest reference to the sheriff is found in the Bible. In the Book of Daniel, Chapter 3, verse 2, the King Nebuchadnezzar had erected a golden image, which was to be dedicated in a grand ceremony. The King sent for all of the “princes, the governors, and the Captains, the judges, the treasurers, the counselors, the sheriffs and all the rulers of the provinces to come to the dedication…” (Bible).

It is unclear what role the sheriffs’ played in those times but, comparing the titles of the other dignitaries invited, they must have held a highly respected and important position in society. The role of the sheriff becomes clearer in the Magna Charta in the 13th century. The duties of the sheriff included the process of summoning individuals to the court, the disposition of the deceased chattels and property as well as other duties and restrictions placed upon the sheriff. The appointment of sheriffs was also determined.

We will not make any justices, constables, sheriffs or bailiffs, but of such as know the law of the realm and mean duly to observe it. (Magna Charta, 1215)

The office of sheriff represented the Crown and enforced the laws of the reigning monarch. The general work of the sheriff was varied and included many of the present day duties.

The sheriff’s work was still of many kinds. He held certain local courts; he had a part in the enforcement of the laws, and especially of the peace, through arrest and custody of offenders; he aided the work of the king’s courts by the execution and return of writs and the empanelling of juries; he carried out the directions of the executive in the performance of many other duties especially enjoined upon him; an he collected and accounted for a fairly important part of the king’s revenue, including the county farms and the judicial income arising through the royal courts. (Morris, Strayer, 1947).

The sheriff as in the past was the normal custodian of the king’s prisoners. There was a county prison…It was a constantly emphasized duty of the sheriff to receive and safely keep his prisoners. For escapes he was financially responsible. (Morris, Strayer, 1947).

There is also an indication that the sheriff is connected to the processes involved with the distribution of the assets of the deceased and the office of coroner. The coroner recorded and double-checked the sheriff’s work. It was customary for the coroner to record the proceedings of felony charges brought by the sheriff in court. The coroner also recorded the tithing made by fines and costs imposed by the sheriff when the sheriff turned the moneys over to the King’s escheator. This connection continues today and will be discussed later. (The office of coroner has been replaced in Michigan by the county medical examiner but the duties essentially remain the same as those of a coroner.)

In colonial times the sheriff served the process of the county court and district courts, maintained the peace, kept the jail and collected taxes (Ball, 1996). The sheriff became a feature of colonial life and the sheriff remained an essential component of the government.

In the old west, the sheriff was a prominent person in the community. Tales of shootouts and tracking desperate criminals across the dessert are many. Some are fact and some are myths but all have the local sheriff in the fray somewhere. In the split second it took to fire a bullet killing Billy the Kid, Sheriff Pat Garrett not only made Billy the Kid a legend but forever linked his death with “the officer–a county sheriff–who freed society from this desperado” (Ball, 1996).

Historically, the sheriff is a long-standing office and has constituted thousands of years as an integral part of the community.

Constitutional and Statutory Requirements and Duties

Constitutional Requirements

In Michigan, the office of sheriff can be traced back to before the first constitution. This was under British rule as stated earlier. Then, in 1835, two years before Michigan gained statehood, a constitution was adopted. This Constitution established the office of sheriff and very little has changed since then. The Michigan Constitution was revised in 1850, 1908 and the last revision in 1963. In the latest revision in 1963, the office of sheriff is established in four articles.

In Article I Section I the Constitution states:

All political power is inherent in the People. Government is instituted for their equal benefit, security and protection. (Michigan Constitution, 1963)

All power lies with the people. This is especially true for the sheriff. He is the only law enforcement officer elected directly by the people of the community. His or her power lies in the hands of the constituents of the county. The sheriff is one of five offices that are mandated to exist by the Constitution. The Constitution states where they must hold their offices and what securities must be provided by the sheriff. This is not a permissive situation. The Constitution clearly states they shall be elected to these offices. With 83 counties in Michigan, there shall be 83 sheriffs. Their duties are defined by law. Their offices must be at the county seat and the sheriff in particular has to assure the people of the county through a security that he or she will uphold the duties of the office.

In Article VII Section 4 the Constitution states:

There shall be elected for four years in each organized county a sheriff, a county clerk, a county treasurer, a register of deeds, and a prosecuting attorney, whose duties and powers shall be provided by law. The board of supervisors may combine the offices of county clerk and register of deeds in one office or separate the same at pleasure. (Michigan Constitution, 1963)

In Article VII Section 5 the Constitution states:

The sheriff, county clerk, county treasurer and the register of deeds shall hold their principal offices at the county seat. (Michigan Constitution, 1963)

In Article VII Section 6 the Constitution states:

The sheriff may be required by law to renew his security periodically and in default of giving such security, his office shall be vacant. The county shall never be responsible for his acts except that the board of supervisors may protect him against claims by prisoners in his care. He shall not hold any other office except in civil defense. (Michigan Constitution, 1963)

These articles of the Constitution indicate that the sheriff is an integral part of the fabric of government in Michigan. The articles establishing these offices show that the framers of the Constitution gave to each county the autonomy to control and direct the financial, record keeping and law enforcement functions of their jurisdictions.

Section 6 makes two very interesting points. First, that the county board of supervisors “shall never be responsible for his acts.” The sheriff must conduct him or herself in a manner that would limit the exposure to liability because there is no umbrella of protection provided. Moreover, in fact, the umbrella of protection is prohibited.

The second point is that the sheriff “shall not hold any other office except in civil defense”. The framers of the Constitution considered the office of sheriff so complex and difficult that those duties cannot be shared with any other office. The sheriffs are limited to that office to prevent the accumulation and abuse of power in a community. In addition, they may have been saying that the responsibilities and duties are so great that another office may interfere and influence the sheriff adversely. The sheriff must be an independent entity without influences that could distract from the difficult task of being sheriff. The complexity of the position is immense and this complexity will become clearer when analyzing the statutory duties imposed upon the sheriff. Many duties and responsibilities are assigned to the sheriff and the sheriff alone. Although there are many other law enforcement agencies none have the same range of responsibilities of the sheriff.

In Michigan, the state’s duty of law enforcement for the protection of its citizens has been constitutionally delegated to the county in the person of the sheriff. (National Union of Police officers v. Board of Commissioners of Wayne County, 1979)

Statutory Requirements

Chapter 51 of the Michigan Compiled Laws is the section that explains the office of sheriff. There are over 300 separate statutes that empower, restrict, provide for the placement or otherwise direct the sheriff of each county. This is just a small portion of the statutory requirements placed on the sheriff. Court and civil process statutes, correctional law, criminal law and many other statutes govern the sheriff.

(1) The specific duties listed in the statutes include patrolling roads, enforcing state law, investigating traffic accidents, providing emergency assistance to persons on or near the highways and providing these services to cities or villages within the county upon request.

(2) Each sheriff’s department shall provide the following services within the county in which it is established and shall be the law enforcement agency primarily responsible for providing the following services on county primary roads and county local roads within that county, except for those portions of a the county primary roads and county local roads within the boundaries of a city of village; and on those portions of any other highway or road within the boundaries of a county park within that county:

(a) Patrolling and monitoring traffic violations

(b) Enforcing the criminal laws of this state, violations of which are observed by or brought to the attention of the sheriff’s department while providing the patrolling and monitoring required by this subsection.

(c) Investigating accidents involving motor vehicles.

(d) Providing emergency assistance to persons on or near a highway or road patrolled and monitored as required by this subsection

(3) Upon request, by resolution, of the legislative body of a city or village, the sheriff’s department of the county in which the city or village is located shall provide the services described in subsection (2)(a), (c) and (d) on those portions of county primary roads and county local roads and state trunk line highways within the boundaries of the city or village, which are designated by the city or village in the resolution. .(MCL 51.76)

A separate provision makes the sheriff primarily responsible for the recovery of drowned bodies. (MCL 51.301) This is a continuation of the duties in the Magna Charta dealing with deceased persons. There is also a connection between the county coroner and the sheriff.

The coroner serves, as sheriff in the case that both the sheriff and undersheriff vacate the offices (Op. Atty. Gen. 1928-30) and the only person who can serve process of any kind on the sheriff is the coroner. (Hubel V. Rorison, 1890). There is a connection between the sheriff and the coroner. The reasoning behind this connection remains unclear; however, it could it be a continuation of the tradition from mediaeval times. One theory suggests that the connection in mediaeval times was because of the educational level and position in society that each had. Both were placed in positions that required the ability to read and write in a time when nearly all persons were illiterate.

Secondly, the positions of sheriff and coroner were governmental positions but not solely there to represent the crown but to represent and protect the people of the counties. The knights were there solely for the king and the upper class as were the escheator, lords, barons, and other officials of the crown. The sheriff and coroner were for everyone. The sheriff was chosen by the king from the landowners of the county (or shire) and he: “swore to treat the people of his bailiwick lawfully, to do right to all, and to appoint his bailiffs from among the most lawful men in the county. (Morris, William A, Strayer, Joseph R., 1947).

The sheriff is also required by statute to keep a jail.

The sheriff shall have charge and custody of the jails of his county, and of the prisoners in the same, and shall keep them himself of by his deputy or jailer. (MCL 51.75)

The sheriff is designated as the person responsible for the service of all court process.

Sec. 7. It is hereby provided that this act shall be so construed as to require the sheriff, undersheriff and deputy sheriffs to perform all reasonable services within the jurisdiction of their offices for which the county may be liable and to serve and execute all civil writs and processes that may be reasonably served and executed by said officers under salary. (MCL 45.407)

As these statutes demonstrate, the duties of the sheriff are immense. Patrolling roads, searching out criminal law violators, traffic violators, investigating accidents, recovering drowning victims, keeping a jail, service of all court processes and many other duties not specifically listed in the statutes.
The sheriff must perform duties of office of sheriff as recognized at common law as well as those statutory duties which do not destroy the sheriff’s power to perform duties of office at common law. (Brownstown Tp. v. Wayne County, 1976)

Additional duties for the sheriff include patrolling the waters of streams, lakes, and rivers, patrolling snowmobile and ORV trails. Still other duties that are sometimes performed by sheriffs are educational programs, community correctional programs, liaison programs in the areas of mental health, social services, emergency services and others too numerous to mention.

No other law enforcement agency has the common law duties, statutory requirements or constitutional requirements and duties that are imposed upon the sheriff. The sheriffs’ duties encompass all aspects of law enforcement, corrections, and court process. These far reaching duties ensure that the organizational structure and operations of the sheriff’s department are complex and diverse.

Organizational Structure and Operations

Some of the statutory requirements establish the structure of the sheriff’s department. Although the sheriff is autonomous in nature, certain laws regarding the organizational structure of the department bind the sheriff. The size of the county where the sheriff serves determines which restrictions apply.

Appointments of Deputies

In every county, the sheriff must appoint an undersheriff. The sheriff determines the duties of the undersheriff. However, the law restricts who can be an undersheriff. In reference to the act concerning the Michigan Law Enforcement Officers Training act of 1965 the attorney general stated:

Undersheriffs must comply with the minimum employment standard of this section. (Op.Atty.Gen. 1980)

These standards require that the undersheriff must be a certified police officer, unlike the sheriff who does not have that restriction.
In case of a vacancy of the office of sheriff, the undersheriff acts as sheriff until a sheriff is elected or appointed and qualified.
In counties with a population between 150,000 and 300,000, in addition to the undersheriff, a chief deputy sheriff is appointed. His or her duties are restricted and the qualifications of the position are detailed in statute.

In counties having a population of 150,000 and not more than 300,000, the sheriff shall appoint an undersheriff, a chief deputy who shall be a competent accountant and shall keep the books of the office(MCL 51.241)

In counties of population of more than 400,000, the undersheriff also acts as the chief deputy.

In counties having a population of more than 400,000, the sheriff shall appoint an undersheriff, who shall also be the chief deputy…(MCL 51.242)

It is curious that the duties and appointments of undersheriffs and chief deputies in counties of populations fewer than 150,000 and between 300,000 and 400,000 are not found in the statutes.

Other deputies may be appointed as the sheriff deems necessary (MCL 51.70)

This suggests a partial organizational structure for sheriff. This organization is sheriff as department head and then command officers in the form of undersheriff and chief deputy. The sheriff is the department head and the undersheriff by virtue of the succession to the sheriff is the next in command. The chief deputy, if one is appointed, is directly responsible for the financial record keeping of the department. The sheriff is entitled to appoint one or more deputies to fulfill the duties, which he or she has.

Organization of Sheriff Departments

The sheriff, in light of these guidelines, structures the department as he or she wishes. Traditionally, departments are organized in a bureaucratic, rational organizational system. Weber’s theory of bureaucracy provides us the basis for the structure of a rational organization. The basic elements of the structure include a fixed division of labor, a hierarchy of offices, and a general set of rules. These characteristics define the rational theory and these attributes fit into the mindset of most sheriffs. Law enforcement leaders want to efficiently use tax dollars to catch the bad guys. The problem arises when the attention to efficiency and expenditure of funds gets in the way of catching the bad guys. There is almost always a trade-off between efficiency and effectiveness. Most rational organizations are very efficient at what they do; however; quite a few are not effective. When an organization does not have clear, attainable, measurable goals (such as in law enforcement), then the rational organizational theory becomes less useful. For example, the rational model would suggest that a rule be drawn up that says a deputy sheriff should write 15 traffic tickets per shift. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that police agencies cannot have quotas. Therefore, the department makes the rule that deputy sheriffs should write traffic tickets with no specific standard of how many. The rational model wants specific goals and procedures for attaining those goals. Maybe for making widgets or something it can work but for nearly all public sector services the rational model is difficult to apply. Strict rules governing the behavior of the deputies are an attempt to control and direct the deputies’ behavior. Exhaustive policy and procedures exist in sheriffs departments. However, deputies normally act in an autonomous manner. Constructive ways to supervise deputies when they are out on patrol do not exist. The rational system tries to take the decision making process out of the hands of the line worker and place all decision making in the hands of supervisors. This creates a major problem for deputies who are obligated by law to detect and enforce crimes. If the deputy has no discretion about the decisions to enforce laws, then the deputy has a very limited capacity to protect the citizens.

Scott (1998) suggests “The specification of positions, role definitions, procedural rules and regulations, value and factual inputs that guide decision-making—all functions to canalize behavior in the service of predetermined goals”. If this is true, then the deputy loses his discretion and becomes less effective.

The rational system does not work well when the line personnel’s task is decision-making. Decisions that are based upon training, experience and the ability to analyze and adapt to changing conditions.

Environmental Political Considerations

The sheriff’s office operates in a system that must include the public. The election process chooses who is to become sheriff. This direct connection forces the sheriff to understand the community like no other law enforcement official. Without properly receiving and analyzing feedback from the community, the sheriff will not survive politically. Someone who can better understand the community in the next election will replace him or her. Open systems are capable of self-maintenance on the basis of a throughput of resources from the environment. (Scott, 1998). The sheriff takes direction from the county constituents and throughputs that into a plan of action for the deputies. This ensures the political survival of the sheriff individually and his or her department.

Sheriffs and deputies make decisions at all levels and in an infinitely varied environment. Rational organizations prevent this but give the sheriff the power through rules to restrict the deputies’ behavior. Open models encourage adaptation in decision making but do not give the sheriff the power to restrict the deputies’ behavior. The power vested in the office of sheriff is great. Sheriffs are police officers who are the government’s enforcers of the laws. Sheriff and their deputies are given an incredible amount of power in Michigan. They can detain citizens, impound property, issue orders to appear in court, remove children from their parents, and even take a human life. No other profession has that kind of power. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, politicians; none of these have as much power or discretion in depriving citizens of their individual rights.

Deputies make decisions in the absence of direct supervision. This leads to the ethical dilemmas confronting sheriffs, their deputies and all police officials.

Ethical Considerations

Freedom is one of the paramount virtues of a democratic society. (Strait, 2000) Based on individual freedoms, the Constitution provides that above all the individual must be free. This is balanced by the need for society and the government to protect its citizens against harm or intrusion. The police are the first line of defense to protect both society in general and the individual. . When police officers abuse that power, they violate a trust in the government and society that is difficult to repair. Law enforcement personnel have much power in society; they also have higher responsibilities. (Slahor, 1999). As the most visible portion of the government, police conduct affects society’s attitude toward their government. When a police officer acts unethically, the repercussions are enormous.

Ethics and Integrity

To discuss police ethics and integrity properly a definition of these terms is needed. Webster defines integrity as the state of being entire, wholeness, probity, honesty, uprightness. (Webster’s, 1981) Webster defines ethics as: relating to morals or moral principles or a philosophy which treats of human character and conduct, of distinction between right and wrong, and the moral duty and obligations to the community (Webster’s. 1981). It seems that these two terms are used interchangeably. This is not entirely proper. Ethics relates to moral codes and conduct as it relates to the community and integrity relates to wholeness and not moral conduct. However, since they are used as synonyms in the sense of police conduct, then a new definition must emerge that satisfies both definitions. Police integrity is then an obligation by the police to the community to act in a wholly moral way. The attributes that police must possess are complete and moral. What are the specific attributes that police officers’ should possess? They are probably the same as any other public official although the police may be more closely scrutinized. The character of the ideal police officer may include the “six pillars of character”. Those are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. (Berman, West, Bonczek.1998). How to ensure that the police officers have these qualities will be discussed later. It is enough now to know that they are desirable qualities in police officers.

Almost all governmental intrusion into a citizen’s life is done by the police. This intrusion reflects on the government and society in general.

Integrity is universal to the human experience; it can be considered the measure of an individual, an agency, an institution, a discipline, or an entire nation. Integrity is a yardstick for trust, competence, professionalism, and confidence. Deep within every human being is the subconscious ability to interpret behavior and events as a mark of integrity or a violation of trust. This universal tendency makes the study of integrity complex, challenging and important. (Gaffigan, McDonald. 1997).

The police hold a symbolic position in society. (Kappeler, Sluder, Alpert. 1998) They have an unparalleled function. Unlike other public organizations, the police are charged with an important social function: to promote and to preserve civil order and to protect constitutional guarantees (ABA, 1976). This fact causes the police to act in a contradictory way. The police must fight crime to keep the peace; act publicly to control private events; prevent new forms of crime (i.e. computer fraud, political corruption); and appear to serve the community while selectively applying force to whomever they choose. (Souryal, 1992). On one hand the police are to keep the peace and prevent civil disorder and on the other selectively force citizens to comply with laws that may be in conflict with what that citizen feels is a freedom the he is entitled to have.

With all of this power and the discretion to enforce the law of the land, the police must act in an ethical manner or risk losing the power entrusted to them by the public. Without the public’s support the police are powerless and cannot maintain order. So, who determines what is ethical or not?

Influences on Determining Ethical Conduct

There are many influences in the process of determining ethical police behavior. Police leaders, the government at all levels, the media, other police officers, and the public all have a role in determining what is acceptable behavior by the police.

Police leaders bear full responsibility politically, even though they cannot supervise the deputies directly, in the media and in the eyes of the public. (Gaffigan, McDonald. 1997) The leadership of a police department is critical to the ethical behavior of the officers within that department. If the sheriff is behaving unethically in the eyes of the subordinates in the department then their behavior reflects that ideology.

The government, at all levels, shares this determination. Laws, rules and regulations the government enacts provide a framework for the officers to work within. Judicial enforcement of the provisions in the United States Constitution gives officers much of this framework. Other laws and rules are found in other portions of government. The Michigan Constitution requires that “All officers, legislative, executive and judicial, before entering upon the duties of their respective offices, shall take and subscribe the following oath or affirmation:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the constitution of this state, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of ………………according to the best of my ability.

No other oath, affirmation, or any religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust.”(Constitution of Michigan, 1963). The important phrase is “faithfully discharge the duties”. This phrase incorporates the idea of following the charge or obligation of the officer to the duties empowered to them.

The media gives the public information about the world around them. That is their purpose. One of the focuses of their reporting has to do with the government. Moreover, since the police are the most visible form of the government, then the media reports on the police and their conduct frequently. This symbiotic relationship occurs because the media rely on the police for information and the police rely on the media for good community relations. The media has the opportunity to show the public a partial view of police reality and in effect help to form public opinion on the behavior of the police. For example, when Rodney King was beaten by the Los Angeles Police Department it was video taped. The media used that videotape repeatedly to generalize how the LAPD treated people. They used that incident to help the public form an opinion not only about those officers involved but also about the department as a whole and all law enforcement across this country.

Other police officers influence the behavior of police officers everywhere. Police officers are trained to enforce the laws of the land. However, another aspect of their education comes from within the ranks of the department from their fellow officers. Police learn how to behave and what to think from their shared experiences with other police officers. (Kappeler, Sluder, Alpert. 1998). What is accepted by their supervisors, partners and other officers within the department influence new officers and create a generational behavior pattern of conduct. Officers are socialized into a culture, which may promote unethical behavior.

“There are three kinds of men in the department….I call them the birds, the grass eaters and the meat eaters. The birds just fly up high. They don’t eat anything either because they are honest or because they don’t have any good opportunities. The grass eaters, well they’ll accept a cup of coffee or a free meal or a television set wholesale from a merchant, but they draw a line. The meat eaters are different. They’re out looking. They’re on a pad with gamblers, they deal in junk, or they’d compromise a homicide investigation for money.” (Punch, 1985).

New officers are routinely unsupervised and paired with senior officers already acclimated to the “culture”. Imagine the “education” a rookie police officer gets if paired with a “meat-eater”. The deterioration of morals and ethics can be passed on from officer to officer through out the years.

The culture or subculture of the police is a sociological phenomenon that is best left to be explored in depth by itself. It is mentioned here only for identifying it as an influence on the behavior of police officers.

The public influences what is determined ethical behavior by police in several ways. The public receives information from the media, and police officers and forms their opinion on what the police should or should not be doing. The media has been covered. Police officers give the public information about their behavior everyday. Every contact that a police officer makes with a member of society reveals how that officer conducts himself and that perception by the individual translates into a perception about law enforcement and government in general. Every time a police officer makes a contact with an individual, he represents the department, the sheriff, and the government. His conduct, if perceived to be unethical, gives the impression that all government is behaving similarly. If (a police officer) treats people poorly, they lower the credibility of the department and everyone in that department. (Thompson, 1993). If a police officer is hostile, unprofessional or rude to an individual, then that individual could believe that all police officers, departments and the government are incompetent or corrupt. Research shows that if someone has a bad experience with a police officer he will tell twenty-seven to twenty-eight people over the next three days. (Thompson, 1993). The public can spread a negative opinion about the police like wildfire. This influences the police officers behavior to align more closely with the public’s consensus of what is ethical. This is especially true for the sheriff because of the ties to local politics and government.

There are also the personal moral beliefs that each individual officer holds. These beliefs are the foundation for the individual’s character. Honesty is part of that character. Honesty can be divided into two parts. Moral and conditioned honesty. Moral honesty is instilled in the individual during formative childhood years. It is religion. It is the subconscious compulsion to do things honestly. (Carson, 1977) Conditioned honesty is the result of fear of the consequences of being caught in a dishonest act, based upon conscious thought and it requires an intelligent reasoning capacity. This conditioning is the result of experience and fear. (Carson, 1977) It is this conditioning that is affected by the police subculture, the sheriff and his administrators and others. The individual’s religious upbringing, the code of conduct, which the parents of the individual used, or any other deeply set moral fiber is difficult to unravel. Unless or until the conditioned fear outweighs this moral fiber. The influences described above may eventually out weigh even the strictest of moral upbringing.

With all of these influences, it seems that the behavior of the individual officer may be difficult to improve. Ethical behavior by police can be modified with strategies developed to improve the behavior and perception of that behavior of police officers.

Strategies for Improving Ethical Behavior

Improving the ethical behavior of police includes several strategies. They all have one thing in common. The particular strategy employed is a result of the belief by the sheriff that a particular influence needs to be modified. Some sheriffs believe that the police “subculture” is to blame and that strategy attacks that portion of the influence. Others believe that training is the key. Still others believe that the selection process is the paramount concern. Each of these strategies have merits and these among others will be explored.

The police “subculture” is a result of peer pressure and the autonomous nature of police work. This particular aspect cannot be modified without looking at several other areas. Those areas would include continuing education, training and supervisory practices.

Selection and training are standardized throughout the country’s police forces. Individual standards and training vary from place to place. However, there is not a police force in the United States today that does not have some minimum standards that the applicants must meet. The selection of potential police officers must include some screening for desired qualities.

The first step in any plan to make our police departments more competent to control crime is keeping out, rather than removal after they get in, of undesirable, incompetent, and physically or mentally unfit persons from the police force. An unfit or incompetent police man weakens the moral fiber of his associates and at the same time destroys the confidence of the public in the department. The protective organization suffers, and society always pays the bill when the policemen of a community are dishonest, brutal, stupid, and physically or temperamentally unsuited to their work. (Peirson, 1976).

The importance of this screening cannot be over emphasized. It is much easier to prevent those from entering the police force than eliminating them after they are employed. Many sheriff departments are unionized and “many union contracts provide legal support to officers who commit integrity violations. (Gaffigan, McDonald. 1997). Many times the selection of deputy sheriffs focused more on ability to perform job tasks than on character. (Gaffigan, McDonald. 1997). Most important, background investigations of recruits must include serious inquiries into their past behavior, their reputation for honesty and integrity, their current and past associations, and their financial and marital stability, as well as any evidence of illegal drug use or alcohol abuse. (Moffit, Meese, Reagan, 1996)

Training of pre-service and in-service police officers is becoming more prevalent. Training requirements have increased for pre-service recruits. In Michigan, the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES) has set mandatory hours of instruction. These hours have increased from no required hours in 1972 to over 500 hours today. MCOLES is considering mandatory in-service training for officers to continue to be police officers. Part of this training would include cultural diversity and ethics training. This is a trend among police agencies nationwide. The Regional Training Academy in San Diego has instituted situational ethics training program. This program was developed because, ”after academy training in the most basic issues, most officers are left to their own devices to come to terms with ethical dilemmas during their career.” (Huntington, 1999). This training is relatively new to police departments and is still being developed.

Supervisory practices are ever changing. With the introduction of Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving(COPPS), comes a different approach to policing than the traditional role of law enforcement. COPPS can generally be described as the reunification of the police and the community they serve. COPPS is meant to be a partnership, a shared responsibility based on trust, to reduce crime, violence and fear in our neighborhoods. (Borrello, 1998). Supervisors of these programs are able to interact with the community and the line officers rather than to look solely at the “production” (i.e. tickets, arrests etc.) of their subordinates.

Sheriffs must be leaders. They must be leaders in the exercise of ethical behavior. Few actions erode the confidence of the public or of the police in their own department as much as the indifference of command officers to misconduct by their personnel. (Moffit, Meese, Reagan, 1996)

Sheriffs and their deputies are the guardians of the freedoms in society. They are the protectors of the individual and the community. They are the most visible agents of the government. Their conduct is the meter which people gauge their government. Ethical behavior by sheriffs and deputies is paramount for society to continue to give them the power to restrict freedoms, incarcerate persons, seize property and perform all of the other functions for the government.

Ethics are the standards, which the many influences, media, public, sheriffs and other police officers, set for the conduct of police. In practice, the term “ethics” is not clearly defined because of the many influences. Each influence sees ethics differently and each action is viewed under different circumstances. There is not a clear set of rules that are written in stone that determine what is an ethical decision. Ethics are individual and collective at the same time. Morality and religion were only briefly mentioned in the body of this work. This was purposeful. Religion does and will affect the individual now and always. However, religious beliefs have little to do with ethical behavior in public officials. In becoming a sheriff or a deputy, the individual must be able to separate their internal moral code from that of the public. Sheriffs’ represent their government and their community and those entities may not share their individual religious beliefs. Sheriffs can rely on their own set of values and “moral honesty” or they can rely on the “conditioned honesty”. For the good of the communities they serve, they must adopt the collective set of values of their community. If they do not then they are policing for themselves and not for the community.

The strategies for improving the ethical behavior of police officers are numerous. The trend today is toward a greater emphasis on training. Training programs on ethics and cultural diversity abound. Political correctness is the only option for any governmental figure, the police included. Training the veteran police officer, as well as the raw recruit, in dealing with ethical dilemmas is of most importance to applying the law to citizens without breaching the trust of the people.

Sheriffs need to be above reproach. Line officers need to understand that their leaders are ethical people and do not tolerate the unethical behavior of their subordinates. “The answer is proper supervision, planning and looking at the consequences down the road. (Sheriffs) need to set clear rules and policies.” (Hall, 1998).

Selection of recruits needs to be more stringent. Instead of focusing on the individual job tasks, the selection process should focus on the individual’s character. This would ensure that the ethical standards so richly desired by the community will be met. Specific, strict guidelines should be adopted to prevent those individuals lacking good moral qualities from being hired by police agencies.

The police subculture of silence and compliance is perhaps the most difficult aspect of police ethical problems to fix. The “Thin Blue Line” as it is sometimes referred is the attitude of some police officers that loyalty to the “brotherhood” is more important that following the law. Lack of support from police leadership is the main cause of this phenomenon. If sheriffs are unwilling to reward those who speak out and unwilling to punish those who violate the public’s trust, then the “Thin Blue Line” will continue. As one convicted corrupt police officer puts it “Cops don’t want to turn in other cops,” he said. “Cops don’t want to be a rat.” And even when honest cops are willing to blow the whistle, there may not be anyone willing to listen.” (Dowd, 1993) sheriffs must step up and lead their respective departments into an era that rewards those officers who choose to do the right thing.

The most heinous crime anyone can commit is to breach a trust of such great importance. The ability of sheriffs and deputy sheriffs to control such power over their neighbors requires that those officers have highest morals and ethics. Without the trust of the public in the police then the police become powerless and anarchy would ensue. The public, the media, sheriffs’ administrators, the courts, virtually everyone needs to keep a watchful eye on the police. Make them answer for their actions. The police are the public and the public are the police. Without the public the police are useless. When the police become useless, only the criminals and predators will survive.

Future of the Michigan Sheriff

There is a paradigm shift that is occurring across all public agencies. This shift is from the bureaucratic paradigm to the post-bureaucratic paradigm. This shift includes the change in the basic philosophy of public service. The paradigm shift includes ideas of quality and value versus efficiency; from control to winning adherence to norms and from merely following rules and procedures to understanding and applying norms, identifying and solving problems, and continuously improving processes within the organization. (Barzelay, 1992) This paradigm shift is towards a customer driven quality and value driven entrepreneurial government.

This shift is towards something that as yet is to be defined for sheriffs and their departments. Many theories are promoted but have not been able to break the bureaucratic mindset of many of the current sheriffs. It is possible that the optimum organizational design for a sheriff’s department is a combination of the rational, human potential, natural and open models.

The sheriff and his or her deputies are no exception to this shift. Even though the office is bound with traditions and history the office must recognize this is an era of change. Sheriffs must look at the changing face of law enforcement and adapt or be lost. Not only is the role of local law enforcement changing but the advancement of technologies also influences the way in which crime occurs and is detected.

Sheriffs must look to the private sector for motivation and possibly, some answers to the changing environment. The eight basic principles of excellent companies are areas to be explored. Those eight principles are: a bias for action, staying close to the customer, autonomy and entrepreneurship, productivity through people, hands on value driven, stick to the knitting, simple lean form staff and simultaneous loose-tight properties. (Peters, Waterman. 1982). These basic principles apply to the sheriff because these principles exemplify the changing paradigm of government and the updating of the relationship between the public and the sheriff. Especially those dealing with simultaneous loose-tight properties. The situation will dictate whether rigid, bureaucratic rules prevail or discretion prevails. When the situation calls for discretion, then the sheriff must try to influence the culture of the department to act in an ethical manner. This attempt at influencing the police subculture, although extremely difficult, is essential for the sheriff to accomplish. With the extreme amount of power given to sheriffs and deputies there must be rigid controls in place to prevent abuse of that power but still have the flexibility to successfully complete the task of the duties of the office of sheriff.

Today’s environment demands institutions that, at times, are extremely flexible and adaptable or, at other times, rigid and bureaucratic. (Osborne, Gaebler, 1992). The bureaucracies that have formed the office of sheriff have in most cases outlived their usefulness. These bureaucracies need to be examined and modified so that the office of sheriff is customer driven, innovative and productive in a manner which the public is satisfied with the results. This examination should include the changing of the organizations DNA. If you change the organization’s DNA, new capacities and behaviors emerge. (Osborne Plastrik, 1996). Any organization’s DNA consists of the five basic strategies. The core, consequences, customer, control and culture strategies are the fundamental strategies that can revolutionize and re-invent an organization. (Osborne Plastrik, 1996).

The behavior of the sheriff’s conduct must be above reproach. The ethical conflict between being an elected official and an enforcer of laws must be dealt with delicately. A sheriff must be responsive to the community as a law enforcement official yet still gain popular standing. Sheriff’s and police officers need to recognize the extreme responsibilities placed upon them. They must live up to the expectations of an ever-demanding citizenry and deliver quality law enforcement and service to the community. They must find strategies to blend these duties to ensure the continuation of their positions in society as guardians and protectors.

In the future the sheriff must look at these strategies and implement them into the way in which he or she does his or her job. These strategies, simply put, are how a sheriff does his or her job and for whose benefit. Clarifying the role the sheriff has in the community and the purpose for which the office exists, empowering the deputies to perform better and empowering the community, changing the culture of the sheriff’s departments will all make effective changes that will create a sheriff department that does more for the community.


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