Sunday, March 05, 2006

Autonomy for the Sheriff?

by Rick Sorrels

Autonomy is when you act independently with NO outside controls, i.e., a person who is self-controlled or self-governed.

Two examples of individuals obtaining high degrees of autonomy: First, a homeless bum who is a society dropout with no time pressures, no deadlines, and total freedom to wander as he wants when he wants. Second, a dictator responsible to NO law, only his own compulsion. Neither example would make a good Sheriff.

Our government actually tries to eliminate “police states”. Autonomy for police is anathema to our Constitution where “checks and balances” prevail to prevent autonomous acts. When somebody speaks of wanting a Sheriff that has more autonomy, they must surely mean a little less control over the performance of his job (presumably by his supervisor – the County Executive).

A Sheriff has the exact same degree of autonomy whether he is elected or appointed. The Sheriff has a boss, the County Executive, who monitors and directs the Sheriff. As discussed earlier, a Sheriff by his very nature and training tends to rise above the negative influences of politics, and will perform equally well whether elected or appointed. Personality conflicts and infighting might exist irrespective of election or appointment.

The only way to realize any significant difference in the degree of “autonomy” would be to remove the Sheriff from under the Executive, and have him report directly to the County Council. There is nothing to prevent such an arrangement, but a tremendous amount of planning would be necessary to overcome a multitude of potential problems inherent in such an unusual organization.

Such a massive restructure of County government has not been openly voiced. If this is the intent of some Commissioners, then it should be voiced early while time is available to adequately study the issue.

The Voters will never approve an amendment to elect the Sheriff if the only reason cited supporting the change is to give more autonomy (more power) to the Sheriff. Hitler and Saddam Hussein are the images that Voters picture when Police receive more power. Some other, additional compelling reason is needed.

I am still waiting to hear a compelling reason for the citizens to overturn what they have already voted into law in Pierce County, i.e., “the Sheriff shall be appointed”.

Rick Sorrels 26 Feb 06


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