The Office of the Sheriff
Many do not understand the difference in a sheriff’s department and sheriff’s office. The Office of Sheriff is a constitutional office that holds exclusive powers and authority. It is more than another department of county government. The operations are the sole responsibility of the sheriff, not the local county government.
County department heads are subordinate to a county administrator or manager because they are a division of county government, and work for the department head and for the board of commissioners. A county department derives its limited authority from the governing body.
The sheriff derives its exclusive powers and authority from the constitution and the people who elected him. The Sheriff is not a subordinate to or an employee of a county administrator or county commission. In other words, there is no such thing as a Sheriff’s Department.
Duties of the Sheriff
O.C.G.A. § 15-16-10 cites specific duties of the sheriff:
- Execute & return processes and orders of the court
- Attend all sessions of Superior Court
- Attend election sites
- Publish sales, citations, & other proceedings as required by law
- Maintain an execution docket
- Maintain record of all sales made by process of court
- Receive from the preceding sheriff all unexecuted writs & processes
- Perform such duties imposed by law
- Exercise same duties, powers & arrest authority within the municipalities
- Develop and implement a comprehensive plan for the security of the courthouse and any annex.
However, these only make up the tip of the iceberg of the responsibilities of the Office of Sheriff. In Georgia statutes, the responsibilities of the sheriff are mentioned over 600 times. The Office of Sheriff is mandated to enforce hundreds of laws, often without additional resources. Some of these mandates include:
- Mental Health Transports (O.C.G.A. § 37-3-101)
- Courthouse Security (O.C.G.A. § 15-16-10)
- Sex Offender Registry (O.C.G.A. § 42-1-12)
- Determine Legal Status of Immigrants (O.C.G.A. § 42-4-14)
- Private Civil Process Server Registry (O.C.G.A. § 9-11-4.1)
- Fulfill and enforce laws governing raffles (O.C.G.A. § 16-12-22.1)
- Formulate professional bonding company polices (O.C.G.A. § 17-6-15)
- Assist county dog officer in enforcement of dangerous dog laws (O.C.G.A. § 4-8-22)
- Confiscate and destroy any illegal gambling devices (O.C.G.A. § 16-12-30)
- Impound livestock running at large (O.C.G.A. § 4-3-4)
- Confiscate and destroy illegal fireworks (O.C.G.A. § 25-10-6)
- Enforce laws and regulations of the “Georgia Boat Safety Act” (O.C.G.A. § 52-7-25)
- Take custody of persons with contagious TB (O.C.G.A. § 31-14-5, 7, 11)
- Maintain a register of all precious metal dealers (O.C.G.A. § 43-37-2)
Sheriffs are mandated by law to have in place a comprehensive plan for security of the courthouse and all courthouse annexes. This plan must be approved by the chief judge, and reviewed every four years. The sheriff must maintain the safety and security of the court and courthouse. Not only does he provide security within the courthouse, the sheriff or his designee serves as the bailiff of the superior court, and upon request, probate court. It is the bailiff’s duty to assist in maintaining order and decorum in the courtroom and to provide security and protection for jury proceedings and jury members.
The sheriff is also responsible for serving many of the summonses and civil process papers. Most civil proceedings involve disputes over property ownership or the collection of debts. The sheriff exercises a number of broad responsibilities in such cases. Service and execution of warrants is an important role of the sheriff’s office. As in medieval times, sheriffs are responsible for the collection of taxes. However, state law authorizes tax collectors and commissioners, with the written consent of their sheriffs, to act as ex-officio sheriffs. The role of ex-officio sheriffs is to collect taxes due the state and county by level and sale under a tax execution.
Of Georgia’s 159 counties, 147 maintain and operate county jails. By virtue of their office, the sheriffs are the official jailors of the county. They are responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of the prisoners under their control. Sheriffs are also responsible for protecting the rights of their prisoners.