Who Runs the Police Force & Sheriff’s Office in Your City, Your State, and Your County?
Who Runs Your Police Force?

Who Runs the Police Force & Sheriff’s Office in Your City, Your State, and Your County?

Who is in charge of the police? The Sherrif? Who sets policies and training and oversight of the various police and sheriffs we encounter every day? Who should I vote for if i care about such things?
Updated: 2020-06-27
What is a city council? A county commission? A board of supervisors? And why should I care?
Elected Representatives

Whether it’s a police force for a small town, big city, county, state or nation, someone is at the top of the pile. Someone makes decisions about how the police department is run.

Local Police for New York, NY  

The Chief of Police heads up a municipal police force, and he typically answers to the mayor, city council and possibly key city management personnel, like city managers.

If you want to demand changes to your police force, get on your city council agenda and speak at their meetings.

If your town is an unincorporated area, your police might be provided by the county, or perhaps some sort of special protection district.

Try searching New York, State Police (Web Search) on Google or your favorite search engine to learn more about your local police department. [more]

The County Sheriff In your county

In all but three states, at the county level, the sheriff is in charge.

In most states, it’s an elected position.  If you don’t like what the sheriff is doing, vote him out at the next election.

Make your voice heard by attending county commissioner meetings. An elected sheriff can be removed from office for charges of malfeasance. 

Try searching County, Sheriff, State (Web Search) on Google or your favorite search engine to connect with your local sheriff.

Three states that do not have Sheriff's Offices:

  • Alaska. No county governments.
  • Connecticut. Sheriffs have been replaced with a State Marshal System.
  • Hawaii. There are no Sheriffs in Hawaii but Deputy Sheriffs serve in the Sheriff's Division of the Hawaii Department of Public Safety.

What do Sheriffs Do?

The duties of sheriffs vary tremendously by state. In the Northeast, they may do nothing more than provide security in the courthouse. But in most other states, they’re responsible for highway patrols, and in many, they handle general policing and corrections. The job can be incredibly complex, involving the oversight of law enforcement across multiple jurisdictions; managing jails, which often makes them the largest provider of mental health services in the county; performing evictions; sometimes running the coroner’s office; and, if they’re near water or mountains, running search and rescue functions. (Sheriffs’ duties may vary, but the demographics of the officeholders are strikingly consistent. A survey of sheriffs by Holman and Emily Farris of Texas Christian University found that 95 percent of them are male and 99 percent are white.)

- Why There Are So Many Bad Sheriffs - Alan Greenblatt Governing.com (Alan Greenblatt -- Senior Staff Writer, covers politics as well as policy issues for Governing. He is the coauthor of a standard textbook on state and local governments. He previously worked as a reporter for NPR and CQ and has written about politics and culture for many other outlets, print and online.)

In your state: State Police

State police forces have free rein to operate all through the state. Most state police officers are also called State Troopers or Highway Patrol Officers. 

As their name suggests, they are primarily in charge of patrolling highways to keep them safe, but they have the power to make arrests throughout cities, counties, and the entire state they work in. 

Who’s In Charge?

State police officers answer to a director, who is appointed, and he/she answers to the governor. 

Try searching State State Police (Web Search) on Google or your favorite search engine to learn more about what the State Police does in your state.

Da Feds: FBI, DEA, ICE, ATF, 

By far the biggest amount of policing is done by Federal forces, which range from the DEA to the FBI and Homeland Security. 

The government counts up its law enforcement personnel only every eight years, and all told, at last count in 2016, the federal government employed over 132,000 civilian law enforcement officers—only about half of which come from the major “brand name” agencies like the FBI, ATF, Secret Service, DEA and CBP.

Who’s in charge? Depends on the agency

The public has little understanding or appreciation for the size of some of these agencies, each of which has its own protocols, training, hiring guidelines and responsibilities. 

Federal Bureau of Prisons - a different kind of policing.

Roughly 20,000 federal prison guards known formally as the Bureau of Prisons—whose riot units make up a sizable chunk of the officers imported to D.C. and who represent the single largest component of federal officers in the Justice Department—are concerning to see on the streets in part because they’re largely untrained in civilian law enforcement; they normally operate in a controlled environment behind bars with sharply limited civil liberties and use-of-force policies that would never fly in a civilian environment.

The protests in DC, where unidentifiable police groups were shooting rubber bullets and throwing pepper spray at protesters, was manned by such groups, as noted in an article in Politico.

How to Change & Monitor Your Police Force

Changing the training and practices of federal police forces will be a herculean task, best accomplished by asking questions of your elected County, City, and Federal representatives and demanding accountability. 

Knowledge is power. Peaceful protests are power. And smart, informed voting -- at a federal, state, and local level -- is the best power of all.

Be sure to confirm frequently that you are registered to vote. Purges are going on all the time. Make sure your name has not been purged.

Jurisdictional relevance: There are versions of this article for each State.
Select Your State:

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