(Wampsville, NY – March 2013) There has been some discussion in recent times on why we are a sheriff’s office and not a sheriff’s department. Throughout New York state, sheriffs transitioned away from being referred to as a ‘Department.’ What is the difference between a department and an office, and why it should matter?
Black’s Law Dictionary defines the terms as follows:
DEPARTMENT: One of the major divisions of the executive branch of the government … generally, a branch or division of governmental administration.” OFFICE: “A right, and correspondent duty, to exercise public trust as an office. A public charge of employment … the most frequent occasions to use the word arise with reference to a duty and power conferred on the individual by the government, and when this is the connection, public office is a usual and more discriminating expression … in the constitutional sense, the term implies an authority to exercise some portion of the sovereign power either in making, executing, or administering the laws.”
So, why is it the sheriff’s office and not sheriff’s department?
The Office of Sheriff is not simply a “department” of county government. The internal operation of Office of Sheriff is the sole responsibility of the elected Sheriff. County department heads are subordinate to a county governing body, because a “department” is truly only a division of county government.
The Office of Sheriff is a statutory/constitutional office having exclusive powers and authority under state law or state constitution. These inherent powers are not subject to the dictates of a local county governing body.
The Office of Sheriff has inherent common law powers and sovereignty granted under a state’s constitution or state law. It is different from a county department that derives its limited authority from whatever is delegated to it by statute or by state constitution.
The elected Office of Sheriff serves the public as the highest law enforcement officer of a county. As such, the Office of Sheriff requires the utmost integrity, commitment and exceptional judgment.
I would like to reiterate an excerpt from the National Sheriffs’ Association Code of Ethics, one that I reflect on each day:
“As a constitutionally elected sheriff, I recognize and accept that I am given a special trust and confidence by the citizens and employees whom I have been elected to serve, represent and manage. This trust and confidence is my bond to ensure that I shall behave and act according to the highest personal and professional standards.”
It will remain my top priority to ensure the safety and well-being of the citizens of Madison County, and all that work in and visit our community on a daily basis.
Allen Riley, Madison County Sheriff