MOUNT VERNON — The office of sheriff is one of the oldest in the English legal tradition and one of the first offices created by the writers of the first Ohio Constitution.
The sheriffs of each county are the only elected law enforcement officers in the state of Ohio, with duties prescribed by state law. According to the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association:
•Sheriffs are responsible for courthouse security, under the direction and control of the county commissioners. They are also responsible for security in the courtroom.
•Sheriffs are in charge of the county jail and all prisoners confined there.
•Sheriffs provide transportation of prisoners to and from state institutions, holding facilities and courts.
•In addition to law enforcement in rural areas, county sheriffs often provide law enforcement services with communities that cannot afford to maintain their own police offices. Sheriffs also provide law enforcement services, security and crowd control for special events such as county fairs, concerts and sporting events.
•Traffic control and enforcement, including crash investigations and directing traffic around special events and construction projects.
•They are the agencies primarily responsible for the delivery of legal documents in the state, including summonses, subpoenas and law suits. They also do evictions and repossessions and attach, seize and sell property as ordered by the court.
•In many counties, the sheriff operates and maintains a 24-hour-a-day dispatch center that also provides dispatch services for other agencies such as police, fire departments and volunteer ambulance operations. In Knox County, one of the dispatch centers is located at the sheriff’s office, but it answers to a 9-1-1 Board and not just the sheriff.
•Sheriffs often operate DUI enforcement, drug and alcohol awareness programs. In some counties they provide boating patrols on waterways and lakes. Many of these use federal funds or are joint ventures with other agencies.
The sheriff’s pay is based on a county’s population. The pay in Knox County, with a population of 60,921, is $69,372.
Knox County Sheriff David Barber is retiring after this year following five terms in office. After more than 19 years as sheriff, he has some thoughts about what kind of person it takes to be a sheriff and how the job has changed over the years he has been in office.
Among the essential characteristics a sheriff must have, Barber said, are:
•Leadership and management abilities.
•“Forward thinkingness,” which he described as having a vision for the future and not being afraid to try new ideas and new technologies.
•High moral standing and respect from the public.
The sheriff’s office has the largest budget in the General Fund in Knox County, approximately $4.3 million. It currently has 55 employees (not including the 9-1-1 operation) divided into jail, patrol, detective, administration, civil process and records divisions.
The sheriff, he said, must work effectively with other county officials. That doesn’t mean they have to agree on everything.
“It’s not a secret that I have a history of fighting with the commissioners over budgets,” Barber said, adding that he has learned to work with them and try to educate them about his roles and responsibilities.
There is a need for dialogue between the offices and he thinks he has been able to maintain that the past few years.
The sheriff needs to cooperate with other offices as well, Barber said, especially when it comes to maintaining good working relationship with the county prosecutor’s office.
Some management issues are different for a sheriff, compared to a city police chief. In Knox County, Barber said, the sheriff does the hiring and promoting. Those processes are not subject to Civil Service tests. Background checks are conducted on prospective hires, and computerized voice stress analysis is used.
“Sheriff’s departments are typically not covered by Civil Service laws and procedures,” Barber said. “There’s no (competitive) testing process.”
Hiring is a long process, he said, especially with the background tests and psychological screening they do. He also personally handles promotions and all discipline, Barber said.
The biggest change in the sheriff’s office that he’s seen over the years, Barber said, is a combination of training and technology.
“Training was lacking prior to 1993,” he said. Technology has also advanced by leaps and bounds and sheriff’s offices have to keep up.
Among the big problems facing the sheriff’s office in the future, Barber said, are the growth of heroin addiction and, in the jail, dealing with medical issues and mental health issues among prisoners.