The Sheriff's Real Job

October 12, 1994

John Brown's campaign brochures and ads leave the impression that he is the incumbent tax collector in Carroll County rather than the county sheriff. Mr. Brown brags that during his four-year tenure, he has been able to double the amount of money -- from about $575,000 to $1.1 million -- his office collects from jail inmates, deadbeat dads and for serving court papers. Doubling collections is a commendable feat, but it is not necessarily the appropriate standard for judging the sheriff's performance.

The sheriff's job is to maintain the peace, operate the jail and deliver court papers. Some of these activities -- payments by work-release inmates and serving civil lawsuit papers -- generate fees, but the purpose of the sheriff's office is not to maximize revenue as if it were a business. To focus on these activities diverts voters from assessing the performance of the sheriff's more important duties.

Sheriff's deputies are certified law enforcement officers, which means they have received several hundred hours of police training. In a county that has fewer law enforcement officers per capita than all of the surrounding jurisdictions, these deputies could augment the state police, resident troopers and local police. For example, instead of taking police off patrols to direct traffic at the Maryland Wine Festival or provide security at carnivals, these deputies could easily do the same job. Sheriff Brown has resisted using the deputies in this sensible fashion. Is the county well-served by using deputies solely as well-trained collection officers?

Running the county detention center is another important duty. While there may be opportunities to recoup some of the costs of operating the jail, such as charging work-release inmates for room and board, the sheriff's first duty is to maintain a safe and secure penal facility. Planning for the future growth in the number of inmates is a key element. Overcrowding can result in dangerous conditions that explode into riots that can injure jail personnel as well inmates. Prior to the campaign, Mr. Brown focused attention on the need for more jail cells, but that issue has not been discussed in depth at all.

During the campaign for sheriff in Carroll County, let's not lose sight of the sheriff's real job. Raising revenue should not be his prime objective. Securing the peace and safety of the community is.

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