This morning I was reading an article at Delaware On Line http://www.delawareonline.com/article/20111211/NEWS/112110334/Sheriffs-duties-differ-other-states?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|Home
It is yet another article about the ongoing issue of the Sussex County Sheriff”s office, and what powers that office does or does not have in regard to arresting and enforcing the law.
Many of us here in Delaware and especially in Sussex are all too aware of this issue. Sheriff Jeff Christopher maintains that the sheriff and his deputies have all of the same authority as the State Police and municipal police officers. However a similar case that went to the courts concerning a previous sheriff, Bob Reed, found that the County sheriff is not a police officer. An opinion in the same case of Bob Reed, from the Attorney General’s office also stated that the County Sheriffs do not how police powers.
Sheriff Christopher contends and relies on the state constitution and its use of the phrase or title, “conservator of the peace”. Sheriff Christopher states that the state constitution trumps Delaware code in this matter. It was the Delaware code that both the courts and the AG’s office were relying on to make their decisions.
In the Delaware On Line article there was much made of the fact that in many other states around the nation sheriffs are intrusted with full police powers. Among their powers some are even the jail keeps.
Let me just say, as a state’s rights person, I care little for what other states are doing with their sheriffs. This is Delaware, we can decide for ourselves. And if anyone wants to live as they do in Ohio, then move to Ohio.
There are many factors to be considered in this issue. Let’s take the whole constitution v. Delaware code thing first. In my simple understanding of this, the Delaware constitution creates the office of County Sheriff. It is then left up to the General Assembly to define this office in Delaware code, which has been done. The courts and the AG’s office then explains and enforces that definition. This also has been done. The sheriff has also pointed out that in Delaware code there are numerous statutes that give the office of sheriff arrest powers, such as in the case of dog theft. The sheriff can also be specifically ordered by a judge to make a specific arrest of a person named in a specific warrant. So the sheriff will have to admit that the Delaware code has the authority to define the powers of his office.
I would also like to point out something that causes me great concern in this matter. Sheriff Christopher has on many occasions stated that his deputies need the additional training for the safety of both the public and themselves. So that when they are put into situations they are properly trained to handle the situation.
Yet, the sheriff has instructed his deputies to continue to pull over vehicles, to seek out people to arrest who have warrants, in other words, the sheriff has instructed his deputies to insert themselves into the very situations that the sheriff has stated they are not properly trained to handle. One has to wonder is he intentionally putting his deputies at risk to force the issue back into court? One would hope not.
I believe that this needs to be settled once and for all. How that will happen I am not sure, but it would seem as if the sheriff intends to keep the issue front and center. I would think that we can expect that the General Assembly will be addressing this issue in the up coming session. I would expect that the General Assembly will seek to clean up Delaware code to clarify what the office of sheriff is and is not. I would expect that any move in this direction will and should begin from the Republican side of the aisle, since the sheriff is a Republican and any Democrat move would be labeled political. I think anyone with any political savvy can see how this is likely to end. I would expect that a sworn elected official would honor the decision of the courts, the Attorney General’s office and the General Assembly.
If this plays out the way most feel that it will, then I would encourage Sheriff Christopher to honor the decisions and to discharge his duties as defined in such decisions. And then he should make the issue front, center and singular in his next campaign for re-election. He might even want to consider running for higher office so that he can bring legislation to change the definition.