What Does The Sheriff Do?
Sheriffs are elected officials. In Grand Traverse County, they direct a ton of taxpayer money, amounting to almost 40% of the county budget.
Among other responsibilities, it’s their job to oversee the county jail. Sheriffs have the authority to make changes and direct policies on multiple issues – what the sheriff says goes, with substantial funding.
Sheriff responsibilities include:
- Overseeing healthcare, including mental healthcare, in the county jail
- Establishing protocol for county law enforcement approach to addiction
- Responding to domestic violence calls
- Leading how laws will be enforced locally – including executive orders like those related to COVID-19
- Making decisions on how county-level law enforcement proceeds with immigration
Perhaps the best way to understand the sheriff’s ability to create change in a community is to see what is being done in other areas.
In Mecklenburg County, Sheriff Garry McFadden ended solitary confinement for teenagers in his facility, reinstated back in-person visits to the jail rather than allowing only tele-visits, introduced job fairs into the jail, and instituted a behavioral health unit in his jail.
He also ended voluntary cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement upon being elected, making a substantial difference in the lives of immigrants in the community.Actions like this encourage cooperation between law enforcement and the immigrant community, which helps to make everyone safer.
On March 20, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, he suspended enforcement of evictions.
In Durham County, Sheriff Clarence Birkhead started a Community Advisory Board. The board consists of twenty-five community members advising the Sheriff’s Department on their approach on issues from poverty to gun violence.
He also worked to identify long-standing concerns with the county jail, including renovations to reduce suicide risk and moving towards a model that builds healthy relationships between staffers and those incarcerated.
During COVID-19, he suspended evictions, responding to the needs of his community during the pandemic.
He’s also suspended 48-hour ICE holds, improving relations with the local immigrant community.
All of this is possible in our community. Sheriffs are elected officials – they work for us, and we have the power to make them accountable.