Updated on 11/2/2023
ARTICLE UPDATE AND CORRECTION 11/2/23: This information was provided by Jesse Pippy of the Frederick County Delegation: " The Frederick County Delegation is not in support of making any constitutional changes regarding Maryland Sheriffs. Rather, it appears that a few local Democrat legislators in Frederick County are attempting to remove their local Republican Sheriff. These efforts are NOT supported by the Republican led Delegation."
How are Maryland's sheriffs different from other law enforcement agencies in the state?
According to Article IV, Section 44 of the Maryland Constitution, a sheriff must be elected in each county and Baltimore City. The section also specifies the term of office for a sheriff and imposes age and residency requirements on those seeking the office1.
The Maryland Sheriffs’ Association website states that since 1776, with the exception of a period between the War of 1812 and 1867, Maryland’s Constitution has required that all sheriffs be elected. In 1925, the General Assembly lengthened the sheriff’s term of office from two to four years, a change that remains in effect today2.
Also according to the Maryland Sheriffs' Association:
Today, Sheriffs remain the primary law enforcement official in many Maryland communities. The state’s 24 Sheriffs and their more than 1,600 deputies are sworn police officers, graduates of certified police academies, and have the same powers as other Maryland law enforcement officials to make arrests and detain lawbreakers.
In unincorporated areas of the State, the Sheriff frequently provides all law enforcement services. In other jurisdictions, the Sheriff’s primary law enforcement duties may be limited to routine patrol and accident and criminal investigation.
However, even in jurisdictions where other organizations, such as the county or State police, have primary law enforcement responsibilities, Sheriffs retain their police powers. This means Sheriffs and their deputies will respond anytime, anywhere, they observe the commission of a crime or see a citizen in need of assistance.
A delegation of legislators in Frederick County wants to change the role of Sheriffs. Because Sheriffs are designated in the Maryland Constitution as state employees elected by the citizens in their counties, they cannot be removed from office except by elections.
Some Democrat members of the Frederick County Delegation, citing the recent legal problems of Frederick County Sheriff Jenkins, want to be able to remove a sheriff from office. It is alleged that legislation is currently being drafted for presentation to the Maryland House of Delegates during the next session. The legislation would rewrite the Maryland Constitution and enhance the ability of counties to remove their sheriffs due to neglect or inability to carry out their duties due to an accusation. Republicans on the Frederick Delegation, who make up 11 of the 15 delegates, do NOT support this idea.
While pushing this idea, speakers at a recent forum spoke about problems in other jurisdictions with their sheriffs, namely Harford and Montgomery County.
But there is a problem with their logic.
The reason Sheriffs are elected in Maryland is to assure each county has law enforcement that is subject to the will of the electorate. Every four years, sheriffs can be voted out by the citizens. This does not apply to State Police or even municipal police forces. Maryland has a checks and balance system between three different kinds of law enforcement entities. And, while they work together, two are accountable to state/municipal government and the other to the local voters.
Of course, they must all follow the law.
But sheriffs bring something different to the table. Within their agency, they have a laser like focus on the needs of their county. Since they are elected, they are more in tune with what their citizens need and want. They are residents of their counties, making them more invested in what happens there.
The Governor, States Attorney General and Democrats in the Maryland legislature seem to have a problem with that. To be honest, they seem to have a problem with ALL law enforcement. They have handcuffed them with sweeping "police reform" bills.
One section of the police reform bill creates a new statewide use-of-force policy and says that officers who violate those standards, causing serious injury or death, can be convicted and sent to prison for up to 10 years. The standard says that force can be used only to prevent “an imminent threat of physical injury” to a person or to “effectuate a legitimate law enforcement objective.”
The policy also says that force must be “necessary and proportional.” Police reform groups said that was a tougher standard than the traditional “reasonableness” standard, which they said was not sufficient for holding officers accountable for blatant acts of violence.
Trouble is, no one can actually define what "necessary and proportional" is, making the standard arbitrary. Police officers won't know if what they do during an arrest will get them convicted of a crime or not, forcing many to do nothing. Imagine being a policeman facing a violent person committing a crime, especially with a weapon, and having to decide in a split second whether to shoot, use a taser, take other action or just do nothing. No matter what you do, your actions will be reviewed negatively by a group of people who have never been cops and have NO idea whether your actions are "necessary or proportional."
Or worse, you could have your actions questioned by people who have openly declared war on police. It's no secret that the Police Accountability Boards in various jurisdictions are populated with people who have an axe to grind with law enforcement.
Which brings us back to this new proposal. President of the Maryland Sheriff's Association Joe Gamble said about the proposed action; " The Democrat members of the Frederick County delegation to the Legislature are attempting to change the Maryland Constitution in order to remove a sheriff from office for being ACCUSED of an ethics violation or being ACCUSED of a crime. There is no such law that would remove a delegate, senator, governor for an accusation of an ethics violation or being accused of a crime. What's next, changing our U.S. Constitution since citizens are presumed innocent until proven guilty? Will citizens now have the burden of proof to show innocence?"
The bottom line is, one person, one group makes an allegation against a sheriff and that sheriff could be removed. Sounds like a strategy those who wish to commit crime would love to use to remove an effective law enforcement officer.
For the past ten years, the movement to neuter, demoralize, and defund the police has been growing in the United States and particularly in blue states like Maryland. At the same time, crime statistics are sky rocketing.
If there are unethical sheriffs, the people in their counties will hold them accountable with elections. But, at the same time, people in all areas of the state realize the importance of our local Sheriff's Departments in keeping them protected from those who wish to do harm to them. People also realize that if any law enforcement agency in their counties is going to fight to protect the Constitutional rights of citizens, it's likely to be their sheriff's department.
We need to return the favor by standing up for them.