Office of the Sheriff

In each of the 36 counties in Oregon, the Sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer. Their primary duty is to give full police protection to the unincorporated areas of the county. However, they maintain full police jurisdiction in all municipalities.

Their responsibilities cover the entire spectrum of law enforcement — criminal investigation, search and rescue, service of legal process of the courts, the operation of the county jail, and total police services on a 24-hour basis. The Sheriff’s Office must provide court security, transport all criminals to and from penal institutions, and is also called upon to handle mental patients within their jurisdiction.

The Sheriff maintains well-trained reserves to aid regular deputies and to assist them in any way possible. As an unpaid service unit, volunteer deputies are required to have law enforcement education.

In many counties, the Oregon Sheriff is directing large numbers of personnel, and managing budgets in excess of several million dollars. The efficient and effective management of the Sheriff’s Office demands a highly trained and experienced Sheriff.

The state law sets the qualifications for Sheriff as: not less than 21 years of age, be certified or eligible for certification by the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, and have at least four years’ experience in law enforcement or two years post high school education, or any combination of experience and education for at least four years.

All Sheriffs have full police authority in any county in Oregon when requested by another Sheriff. In this respect, these men have established great working rapport. The communication between the respective Sheriffs is effective, efficient, and a true service to the people of Oregon.

Sheriffs’ Code of Ethics

“As a law enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is to serve mankind; to safeguard lives and property; to protect innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation, and the peaceful against violence or disorder; and to respect the Constitutional rights of all men to liberty, equality, and justice.

I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all; maintain courageous calm in the face of danger, scorn or ridicule; develop self-restraint; and be constantly mindful of the welfare of others, honest in thought and deed in both my personal and private life. I will be exemplary in obeying the laws of the land and the regulations of my office. Whatever I see or hear of a confidential nature or what is confided to me in my official capacity will be kept ever secret unless revelation is necessary in the performance of my duty.

I will never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities, or friendships to influence my decisions. With no compromise for crime and with relentless prosecution of criminals, I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately without fear or favor, malice or ill will, never employing unnecessary force or violence and never accepting gratuities.

I recognize the badge of my office as the symbol of public faith, and I accept it as a public trust to be held so long as I am true to the ethics of law enforcement. I will constantly strive to achieve these objectives and ideals, dedicating myself before God to my chosen profession … Law Enforcement.”

History of the Office of Sheriff

When people hear the word sheriff some may think of Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry, he was the model of community policing before the term was invented, or the Sheriff of Nottingham from the days of Robin Hood, or perhaps Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona. The first of two important characteristics that distinguish the Office of Sheriff from other law enforcement units is its historical roots. In England, the sheriff came into existence around the 9th century. This makes the sheriff the oldest continuing, non-military, law enforcement entity in history.

In early England the land was divided into geographic areas between a few individual kings — these geographic areas were called shires. Within each shire, there was an individual called a reeve, which meant guardian. This individual was originally selected by the serfs (serfs worked the land of the kings or lords) to be their informal social and governmental leader. The kings observed how influential this individual was within the serf community and soon incorporated that position into the governmental structure. The reeve soon became the King’s appointed representative to protect the King’s interest and act as mediator with people of his particular shire. Through time and usage, the words shire and reeve came together to be shire-reeve, guardian of the shire and eventually the word sheriff, as we know it today.

The Office of Sheriff grew in importance with increasing responsibilities up to and through the Norman invasion of England in 1066. The duties of the sheriff included keeping the peace, collecting taxes, maintaining jails, arresting fugitives, maintaining a list of wanted criminals, and serving orders and writs for the King’s Court.

The early American Sheriff was important to the security of the people and was granted much power. Along the early frontier, sheriff’s administered punishment. Sheriff John Nixon was the first person to publicly read the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. At the time, Thomas Jefferson in his work titled “The Values of Constitution” stated “the Sheriff is the most important of all executive officers in the county. The sheriff’s power and authority are from the people who elect him. The citizens should control the office of Sheriff.” The Office of Sheriff is certainly significant and was, in fact, the first county office established in the United States.

History of Oregon’s Office of Sheriff

Joseph Lafayette Meek was Oregon’s first elected sheriff. He was born in Washington County Virginia February 7, 1810, he came to Oregon in 1840 and was elected Sheriff in 1843. He was re-elected in 1845. Meek enforced liquor laws and he was the first Tax Collector. Failure to pay at that had a penalty of loss of voting rights, and others could jump your property claim.

In 1847, a massacre (Known as the Whitman Massacre) of settlers occurred in Walla Walla, and one of Meek’s daughters was killed. This seemed to be the tipping point and the Oregon Country became a formal territory of the United States. Meek was then elected to the Oregon legislature in 1846 and 1847. Meek died in 1875 and is buried in Washington County. During this time, the Oregon territory encompassed most of what we know today as the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada. Russia and Mexico and the Continental Divide were our boundaries.

Clearly the office of Sheriff is not simply another department of county government. The internal operations are the sole responsibility of the Sheriff. County department heads are subordinate to a county administrator or manager because they are truly only a division of county government, and they work for the manager or board of commissioners. The office of Sheriff is a constitutional office in 35 of the 50 states, having exclusive powers and authority. These powers are not subject to the dictates of a county manager or the whims of the board of commissioners. These powers have been exercised for over a millennium. The Sheriff is the “Chief Executive Officer” and “Conservator of the Peace” in the county. In the execution of the Office of Sheriff, there are many mandates and duties. Overall in Oregon, there are 68 statutes with subsections which mandate by law what the duties of a Sheriff are.

All Oregon cities lie within one or more counties. The duty of the Sheriff as “Conservator of the Peace of the County” and to defend the county, therefore, extends into the territories of the city within the sheriff’s county. Every city in Oregon has the power to provide general police protection. However, the Sheriff’s duty to provide law enforcement within the city limits is not relieved by the city’s providing its own law enforcement.

The kicker is this: Beyond the sheriff’s discretion stands the discretion of the county governing body to appropriate funds to enable the Sheriff to perform law enforcement duties. Although the Sheriff’s duties are mandated by state law, the decision over the amount of funding available for the performance of these duties is to the county’s governing body. The Sheriff’s Office is different than other law enforcement agencies, it is directly accountable to the citizens through the election of the Sheriff. The Sheriffs Office is an independent office through which the Sheriff exercises the powers of the public trusts. Sheriffs are directly accountable to their constituents, their state laws, their state’s constitution, and the United States Constitution. The Sheriff must work with all segments of government to serve and protect the citizens of their counties.

Oregon has a rich tradition of County Sheriff’s. Each County has an interesting history of its own. Each Sheriff elected is unique and is among the elite. It should be considered an HONOR to serve as an Oregon Sheriff.

In 1845, the first four districts were formed and Sheriffs were elected: Clackamas with Sheriff William Holmes, Champooick with William Morrison, Twality with Sheriff Thomas Smith, and Yam Hill with Sheriff A.J. Hembree. All other districts began to form from these four in 1844.

Sheriff Historical Timeline

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1844

Clatsop County is formed from a portion of Twality.

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1845

Polk is formed from a portion of Yamhill.

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1847

Benton is formed from a portion of Polk.

Linn is formed from a portion of Champoeg.

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1848

Oregon Territory is created by Congress.

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1849

Twality's name is changed to Washington County.

Champoeg's name is changed to Marion County.

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1851

Lane is formed from parts of Benton and Linn.

Umpqua is formed from Yamhill.

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1852

Douglas is formed from Umpqua.

Jackson is formed from Lane.

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1853

Congress makes border between Washington and Oregon at the Columbia River.

Tillamook is formed from Clatsop.

Coos is formed from Umpqua and Jackson.

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1854

Wasco is formed from Clackamas, Marion, Linn, and Lane. (It becomes the largest county ever created in the US).

Columbia County formed from Washington.

Multnomah is formed from Washington and Clackamas.

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1855

Curry is formed from Coos.

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1856

Josephine is formed from Jackson.

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1862

Baker is formed from Wasco.

Umatilla is formed from Wasco.

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1864

Grant is formed from Umatilla and Wasco.

Union is formed from Baker.

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1874

Lake is formed from Wasco.

Umpqua is formed from Yamhill.

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1882

Klamath is formed from Lake.

Crook is formed from Wasco.

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1885

Morrow is formed from Umatilla.

Gilliam is formed from Wasco.

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1887

Wallowa is formed from Union.

Malheur is formed from Baker.

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1889

Harney is formed from Grant and Sherman is formed from Wasco.

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1893

Lincoln is formed from Benton and Polk.

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1899

Wheeler is formed from Crook, Grant, and Gilliam.

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1908

Hood River is formed from Wasco.

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1914

Jefferson is formed from Crook.

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1916

Deschutes is formed from Crook.