Don’t Call Them a “Sheriff’s Department” Any More


TOM STROMME/Tribune Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said on Wednesday afternoon that conditions in the Heart River channel west of Mandan had changed drastically. Kirchmeier said the search for a missing Bismarck man will continue but searchers will do their work primarily from the banks of the now ice jammed river.

Yesterday I got a press release from the Morton County Sheriff’s Office indicating that they’d like to be called an office now.

Not a department.

“I know the terms have been used interchangeably in the past, so I wanted to make you aware in order for you to make the appropriate reference to the office in future reporting,” Maxine Herr, a public information officer from Morton County, said in the release. “This is a fairly new movement within our nation’s sheriff’s offices. We transitioned all of our logos, patches and badges to ‘office’ from ‘department’ just last year so we are striving to ensure our name is accurately cited wherever it may appear.”

Why the switch in nomenclature?

It has to do with recognizing that sheriffs are elected.

I’m not sure if other sheriff’s in North Dakota are doing this as well. Morton County is the only one I’m aware of, but apparently this is part of a national trend.

Herr also distributed the document below, created by the National Sheriff’s Association, which explains the change. An excerpt:

This makes sense, I suppose, as a reflection of the status quo. Though I’m not so sure we should be electing sheriffs.

I’m not sure that law enforcement should be this independent. Generally I think cops, like the military, should be subordinate to civilian authority.

Here’s something I wrote in a print column last year:

Our police chiefs are not elected. They serve at the pleasure of municipal leaders. The head of the state patrol here in North Dakota serves at the pleasure of the governor.

Our military leaders also aren’t elected. They serve at the pleasure of civilian leadership.

But we elect sheriffs, affording them a degree of protection from accountability that other law enforcement and military leaders don’t get.

We’ve had a lot of problems with sheriff’s departments offices here in North Dakota over the last few years, as I detail in the linked column. You wonder if we could avoid some of those problems if the sheriffs were a bit less independent.

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