Office of the Sheriff: A History

The Sheriff is an elected county official who is the county's chief law enforcement officer. A Sheriff or his deputy is empowered to keep the peace, quell riots, transport prisoners for their appearance in court as well as enforcing commitments of incarceration, serving civil process, executing bench warrants, enforcing court orders and assisting other law enforcement agencies.

The history of the Office of the Sheriff is that of self-government.

Anglo-Saxon kings expected their subjects to keep good order, which he called "keeping the peace." It was the duty of the citizens to see that the law was not broken, and if it was, to catch the offenders and bring them before the court.

If anyone saw a crime, he raised a "hue and Cry" yelling as loud as he could to alert the other men of the town to aid him in this chase.

Alfred the Great (A.D. 871-901) combined small towns and villages to form "shires" or counties. A "Reeve" led each shire. People accused of crimes were brought before the "Shire Reeve," (meaning "keeper of the county") who became known as the Sheriff, by appointment of the King.

In 1085 A.D., King William decreed that the Sheriff was to be the Official Tax Collector of the King.

King Henry I in the year A.D. 1116 delegated to the Sheriff the power to investigate and arrest for crimes against the new Penal Code.

By the year 1300, the Sheriff was the executive and administrative leader of the county, also tax collector and head of the local military and the court.

In 1634 the Office of the Sheriff was brought to the new colonies. Virginia was the first to establish its Office of the Sheriff.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania soon followed. The first Sheriff of Bucks County, Richard Noble was appointed by William Penn-Proprietor and Governor in 1682. After this the Justices annually presented to the Governor the names of three persons from which one would be selected as Sheriff of the county. Until 1838 the Freemen of the county elected two candidates from whom the Governor chose the Sheriff. The Constitution of 1838 made the Sheriff a purely elected officer.

For at least one year before his election the candidate for Sheriff must have been a resident of the county and a citizen. He may not keep a tavern nor reside in one.

The Sheriff is to keep the peace, quell riots and disorders. Sheriff's are empowered to appoint deputies to assist him in the performance of his duties. The Sheriff is also invested with the power of "Posse Comitatus" (the power of the county), which he may call upon the entire population of the county above the age of 15 to assist him in certain cases, to aid in keeping the peace, in pursing and arresting felons.

Today the Sheriff is the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the County, and he falls under the title of "Police" in the Pennsylvania Crimes Code.

The Sheriff in modern times is a professional law enforcement agency. Deputy Sheriff's may engage in many activities throughout the day, from serving civil process, investigating and arrest of wanted subjects, transportation of prisoners; to assisting the public and local police while on duty.

Deputies assigned to the courthouse are responsible for providing security within the courts, escorting prisoners, placing defendants into custody if so ordered, and daily operation of the Sheriff's Holding Cells. The Sheriff will also provide extradition of fugitives across the United States. Deputies also respond to quell riots and civil unrest. The Sheriff and his deputies are empowered to arrest with or without a warrant for any breech of peace or crime within the commonwealth, and have full powers as investigating officers of the county.

The Bucks County Sheriff's Office provides Law Enforcement service to the citizens of Bucks County and operates 24-hour service to assure the quality of public safety.

The Office of the Sheriff is an integral part of the American Law Enforcement system; a descendant of an ancient and honorable tradition.