The Texas Sheriff

In Texas, the Constitution creates the Office of Sheriff, and the state legislature prescribes the office’s duties and qualifications. See Texas Constitution, art. 5, § 23. The citizens elect the Sheriff every four years. A sheriff takes an oath of office and posts a bond. A sheriff may appoint deputy sheriffs, county jailers, and telecommunicators (dispatchers). See Texas Local Gov’t Code, Chapter 85. A sheriff holds a state license as a peace officer.

As the chief law-enforcement officer for the county, the Sheriff is responsible for investigating crimes, enforcing traffic laws, and maintaining communications with other law-enforcement organizations. The Sheriff has countywide jurisdiction. But most sheriffs typically concentrate their activities outside city limits where municipal officers have limited jurisdiction. The Sheriff also aids in the security of the courthouse and its personnel, including every county and district court.

One of a sheriff’s most significant responsibilities is to supervise the county jail and safely care for the welfare of the persons detained there. See Texas Local Gov’t Code, § 351.041. The county jail assesses and processes persons brought to the jail after arrest, including starting the process to assist persons who appear to be suffering from mental illness, an intellectual or developmental disability, or suicidal ideation. See Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, art. 16.22. Along with magistrates and their clerks, jail staff play a role in setting bail and related procedures. They even accept bail for many detainees. For persons who do not post bail, the jail staff interview and classify them for an appropriate bed in housing. From there, jail staff supervise them, assist them with various programs, facilitate their communications with friends and family and lawyers, and escort them to and from court proceedings. Jail staff processes the paperwork for all releases.

A sheriff performs a host of other duties in the criminal-justice system as well. A sheriff serves and executes a variety of court papers and orders, including summons, notices, subpoenas, judgments, writs, arrest warrants, bench warrants, and capias. A sheriff files returns and collects various fees. A sheriff is responsible for property seized or held as part of court proceedings.

A sheriff operates a centralized sex offender registration office to monitor sex offenders residing in the unincorporated areas of the county. A sheriff may apply to a justice court for a warrant to seize animals being treated cruelly.

Finally, a sheriff may conduct sales of seized and forfeited property, property being sold at auction for failure to pay property taxes, and property sold to satisfy judgments in civil cases.

In some jurisdictions, a sheriff will institute initiatives or programs to enhance community safety. As this website discusses, Sheriff Skinner has established a number of these initiatives, including a highway interdiction unit, a fugitive task force, a detention-intelligence unit, a child-exploitation unit, and the IGNITE program for inmate training. Recently, Sheriff Skinner and his senior staff re-instituted a SWAT team.

In Collin County, Sheriff Skinner manages a $81 million budget and a staff of 587 personnel. The daily average inmate population at the Collin County Jail is 1,100 persons.

* Facts derived from Texas state statutes and the Texas Association of Counties.