Why Do We Even Need a Sheriff?

The San Francisco Sheriff has been getting a lot of press lately. Sadly, it isn’t for anything awesome. Unless you consider smacking your wife around in front of your 2 year old child to be awesome, which we don’t. Since Sheriff Ross has plead guilty to a misdemeanor, I guess the department’s new motto could be “Do the crime, avoid the time.”

But all this hoopla about the Sheriff has gotten me to wondering… “Why Exactly Do We Even Have a Sheriff?” I understand that plenty of San Franciscans have a uniform fetish, but seeing as we already have a police department, couldn’t we perhaps consolidate, or something? In that spirit, I visited the department’s website in an attempt to find out what they do, only to discover that according to the department’s website, our current sheriff is:

Our Current Sheriff, According to the Sheriff Department's Website on March 13, 2012

From which we can learn that when the Sheriff is preoccupied with defending himself on domestic abuse charges, no one in the department really feels like updating the department’s website. Which is unfortunate, if their webmaster had a sense of humor they could have used his booking photo…

So now that we’ve discovered that the sheriff’s deparment is too embarrassed to admit that Ross Mirkarimi is indeed the Sheriff, I’ve also discovered that the Sheriff’s department does actually have some responsibilities. They include:

Running the Jail(s): So, ok, here’s the thing. According to their website, SF has six jails that the Sheriff is responsible for. But jails #1, #2, #3, and #4 are all in the same building, so quite frankly it feels to me like someone’s trying to fluff their resume. Jail #5 and #6 are in San Bruno, but on the contact page jail #6 has been “closed until further notice” and shared the same address as jail #5 (although a different PO Box). So I’m sorry Sheriff Hennessey, er Sheriff Mirkarimi, but by my count you run two jails.

They guard stuff: Specifically, city hall and the courts.

Arresting Parolees: Why the police can’t just do this is beyond me…

Doing what they are told to do by the Civil Courts, for example: Receiving monies due the prevailing parties of civil law suits, then disbursing funds as directed by court order. Attaching, maintaining custody of and selling personal and real property. Collecting fees in advance for services performed by the Sheriff’s Department. Serving civil bench warrants, subpoenas and other court papers. Performing evictions and garnishments. Providing assistance to evictees.

While I’m excited to know that the Sheriff department really does do stuff, I still don’t understand why we can’t just merge it with the police department. Anyone out there care to explain?


  1. says

    I completely agree! I am a state employee and could tell you countless situations where 2 departments are literally doing the same thing. Total waste of tax payer money, only way to change this is for people like you to spread the word. So keep spreading it!!!!

    • robert says

      The reason we have a Sheriff is because we still elect them they are the highest elected official in the county and the only Law officer in the Constitution. It allows the people some control over local law. If you have never been in a jail or civil warrant division you wouldn’t understand the average deputy serves 120 civil warrants a week alone. They have thier own jobs plus backing up most city police dept. another thing most areas only have Sheriffs dept no county police.

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