Thomas Jefferson, in his work called “The value of Constitutions”, wrote the office of Sheriff is the most important of all the executive offices of the country.After two hundred years, experience has proven that the perspective of Jefferson and other founding fathers is just as valid today as it was when they first perceived of how a free society could best be constructed.
The Office of Sheriff is certainly significant, and was in fact the first county office established in the United States. Some very outstanding Americans have held the office of County Sheriff from the earliest days to the present era. George Washington’s father was an early Sheriff in Colonial Virginia.
The Sheriffs of America have played a significant role in the history of our Nation, and the Sheriffs of Ohio are no exception to this heritage. A brief study of the history of Ohio reveals that Ohio Sheriffs have contributed greatly to the development of the Buckeye State.
Until Ohio achieved statehood in 1803, the position of Sheriff was filled through appointment made by and at the pleasure of, the Colonial Governor. The first Sheriff on record in Ohio was Colonel Ebenezer Sproat. At the time he was appointed in 1788, Colonel Sproat’s jurisdiction covered all of Washington County, an enormous amount of land covering all of Eastern Ohio from Lake Erie to the Ohio River.
After statehood became a reality, only three public offices were filled through the electoral process. The position of Sheriff was one of them. Through this system William Skinner became the first elected Sheriff in the Buckeye State. Since the early 1800’s, Ohio Sheriffs have been elected by the people they serve. By virtue of this system, this office has become the oldest law enforcement position in the United States. It is also the only remaining law enforcement position in the United States filled through the election process. The term of office for Sheriffs in Ohio is four years.
In each of the eighty-eight counties in Ohio, the Sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer. His primary duties are to provide court services, operate a county jail and provide full police services to the unincorporated portions of the county. However, he maintains full police jurisdiction in all the municipalities, villages, and townships. In an effort to become consistent statewide, Ohio Sheriffs and Deputies wear a standardized uniform and all patrol vehicles are marked in the same manner.