The office of the sheriff is one of antiquity. It is the oldest law enforcement office known within the common-law system and it has always been accorded great dignity and high trust. For the most part, the Office Of The Sheriff evolved of necessity. If there had not been laws that had required enforcing, there would have been no necessity for the Sheriff. There would have been no need for the development of police administration, criminology, criminalizes, etc. This is not the case, however. Man learned quite early that all is not orderly in the universe.
All times and all places have generated those who covet the property of their neighbors and who are willing to expropriate this property by any means. As such man’s quest for equity and order gave birth to the “Office of the Sheriff”, the history of which begins in the Old Testament and continues through the annuals of Judeo-Christian tradition. Indeed, there is no honorable law enforcement authority in Anglo-American law so ancient as that of the County Sheriff. Today, as in the past, the County Sheriff is a peace officer entrusted with the maintenance of law and order and the preservation of domestic tranquility.
Sheriffs have served and protected the English-speaking people for a thousand years. The Office of Sheriff and the law enforcement, judicial and correctional functions he performs are more than 1000 years old. The Office of Sheriff dates back at least to the reign of Alfred the Great of England, and some scholars even argue that the Office of Sheriff was first created during the Roman occupation of England.
Clearly, the Sheriff is the only viable officer remaining of the ancient offices, and his contemporary responsibility as conservator of the peace has been influenced greatly by modern society. As the crossbow gave way to the primitive flintlock the Sheriff is not unaccustomed to change. But now, perhaps more than ever before in history, law enforcement is faced with complex, moving, rapid changes in methodology, technology, and social attitudes.