AFP Sheriff Jeff Christopher of Sussex County, Delaware, when he was elected to the office in 2010, thought he was handpicked by the people to represent them as the highest-ranking law officer in the county. Instead, he has found himself in the middle of a fight for the future of American law enforcement as a result of a nationwide effort to abolish the sheriff’s office altogether.
It is one more example of federal and state governments ignoring the will of the people as well as state laws. In the case of Delaware, the state’s own constitution stipulates that the office of the sheriff is a constitutionally created position just like the secretary of state and the attorney general. Delaware’s Constitution states: “The sheriffs shall be conservators of the peace within the counties . . . in which they reside.”
This time it is Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden, sending out mandates to commissioners informing them that their sheriffs no longer have arrest powers. In an opinion released Feb. 24, State Solicitor L.W. Lewis said that neither the state nor the common law grants arrest powers to the county sheriffs.
It would appear that Lewis is a little confused. The office of sheriff was created more than a century before the official founding of the United States. Delaware’s first sheriff took office in 1669.
Christopher tells AFP that the two administrations prior to his—as far back as 2000—began to notice a reduction in funding and the chipping away of powers of the office in general.
“Now my deputies and I have been relieved of all arrest powers and can’t even make a traffic stop,” he said. “Delaware has only three counties. . . The other two sheriffs . . . will not stand up with me” to prevent the elimination of county law enforcement, he said.
During an interview at the Las Vegas Sheriffs Conference in January, Christopher told AFP that the impotence of his office was brought home to him when he was hit in the eye and kicked by County Councilman Vance Phillips but was unable to arrest him.
Beau Biden’s questionable ruling against the longtime tradition of the sheriff being the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the county because of election by the people means the state’s usurpation of the office appears to be a forthcoming fact.
County spokesman Chip Guy announced, “The opinion from the attorney general’s office reinforces what has long been the position of the county [that] Delaware sheriffs and their deputies do not have arrest powers and are not in the same vein as state police or municipal officers.”