Sheriff's Office History
The first sheriff in America is believed to be Captain William Stone, appointed in 1634 for the Shire of Northampton in the colony of Virginia. The first elected sheriff was William Waters in 1652 in the same shire (shire was used in many of the colonies before the word county replaced it.)
Most would probably believe that the office of Sheriff is quintessentially American. In fact, it is wholly British in origin, as is the office of Coroner.
While the origins of the sheriff date back more than 1000 years, the history of the American sheriff began in Virginia in 1634 when British soldiers were replaced by a civil government.
As royal property holdings were divided into manageable administrative units called “shires”, Saxon kings appointed “reeves” or guardians to protect their interests. Throughout the medieval period, shire-reeves, or sheriff’s as they would come to be known, had great and terrible authority.
As the King’s representatives, they had powers of arrest, could raise armies, collect taxes and fines and deal with traitors. Naturally, this unbridled authority led to great opportunities for extortion and corruption.
The office of the Royal Sheriff was reformed, in a sense, but remained critically important to the Crown for hundreds of years. In fact, of the 63 clauses of the Magna Carta, 27 are directly concerned with the sheriff and his office.
One of the reforms included the appointment of “Crowners” in each county to, amongst other duties, provide a system of oversight for the corrupt and greedy sheriffs.
The coroner, as we now know the position today, dates back to September 1194, during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. Among other administrative duties, the Royal Coroner was to respond to the scene of sudden deaths. Not to determine a cause or provide for the security of the remains, but to assure those who discovered the body or who were otherwise involved, reacted in compliance with the King’s convoluted requirements in such an event. If not, penalties were assessed and fines collected. It cost a lot of money to maintain a monarchy.
In fact, there simply is nowhere on earth that today enjoys the protection of a “high sheriff” or coroner that once wasn’t under British rule, including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Kenya, and Hong Kong.
Today, the obligations and expectations of the Merced County Sheriff/Coroner are well defined by California law. Included in his responsibilities today is the duty to maintain jail facilities, preserve peace, make arrests, prevent and suppress affrays, breaches of the peace, riots, and insurrections. Additionally, the Sheriff is compelled to investigate public offenses and search for missing persons. In his role as Coroner, he protects the interests of the deceased and has considerable authority to investigate sudden or suspicious deaths.
The role of the Sheriff has undergone considerable change in the last 1000 years. However, New Mexico State University Professor Edward A. Farris perhaps summed it up best when he wrote: “His (the Sheriff’s) duties and powers may be altered by the existing social and political climate, but his basic responsibility – to protect life and property – has not been diminished.”
1855 – First county seat established at Osborne Ranch and first county officers elected
1856 – Snelling established
1857 – Snelling courthouse and jail open
1872 – Merced established
1872 – Central Pacific Railroad lays track through the east side of Merced County
1872 – County seat moved from Snelling to Merced, Snelling courthouse closed
1872 – Sheriff’s Department established temporarily at the El Capitan Hotel
1873 – Sheriff’s Department established temporarily at the Olcese and Garibaldi Building
1875 – Courthouse at 21st and N Streets opened
1889 – Merced incorporated
1890 – Southern Pacific Railroad lays track through the west side of Merced County
1902 – Sheriff’s Office and jail built adjacent to the courthouse
1915 – Sheriff’s deputy earns $115/month
1937 – First radio receiver installed in sheriff’s cars
1948 – Sheriff’s Parade Posse established
1962 – First canine handler assigned
1968 – New (current) Sheriff’s Office and jail replaces one built-in 1902
1969 – First narcotics task force organized
1974 – First female deputy was sworn in
1974 – First portable transceivers issued to deputies
1974 – First 24 hour patrol begins
1977 – First Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) organized
1977 – Marshal’s Office established
1980 – Hostage negotiators trained and included on SERT team
1982 – SERT reorganized to Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team
1982 – Pre-employment polygraph examination required for sworn employees
1982 – Los Banos sub-station opened
1983 – Pre-employment psychological screening required for sworn employees
1983 – Office assistance program established
1986 – Assumed dive rescue/recovery from CDF
1989 – 800 Megahertz radio system installed
1990 – Merced County Adult Correctional Facility opened
1991 – Department reorganized; lieutenant and captain rank replaced by commander
1992 – Computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system installed
1992 – First auto-loading pistol (Baretta 96F) issued to deputies
1993 – Consolidation with Coroner’s Office
1993 – Correctional Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) established
1994 – First Community Law Enforcement Office (CLEO) opened
1995 – Main jail remodeled
1996 – North Area Station (Hilmar) opened
2003 – First plane (Cessna U-206) purchased; Aviation Unit created
2003 – Consolidation with Marshal’s Office
2003 – First correctional canine handler assigned
2004 – First mobile data computer (MDC) installed in patrol vehicles
2004 – First motorcycles (Suzuki 400cc dual-sport) purchased
2004 – MCACF renamed John Latorraca Correctional Center
2005 – Rifles (.223 caliber) issued to patrol deputies
2005 – Sheriff’s Office opens in Delhi; North Area Station in Hilmar closes