Bill would reform oversight of sheriffs, reduce their pay, and more

A bill making its way through the Statehouse would create increased scrutiny of Vermont’s sheriffs, which critics say is unnecessary and exhibits hostility on the part of lawmakers toward these constitutional officers.

S.17 sets up subcategories for what would constitute unprofessional conduct on the part of Vermont sheriffs, and would make sheriff activities reviewable by the Vermont Criminal Justice Council.

What’s in the bill?

If the bill becomes law, it would restrict the 5% charge the sheriff’s department collects for doing contract work. Typically, sheriff departments can be hired to cover large events such as a concert or to help monitor traffic during road construction, and they are allowed to take 5% for operational costs, training and equipment, and even officer salaries. S.17 would require that this money be used only for operational costs, potentially leading to pay cuts for officers.

The creation of a new nine-member committee to be called the “Sheriffs’ Departments Oversight Task Force” would then be tasked with “creating a sustainable funding model for sheriffs.”

Activities that would constitute professional misconduct, according to the bill, include “biased enforcement” and also the “misuse of official position for personal or economic gain.” Another type of professional misconduct would be the “use of electronic criminal records database for personal, political, or economic gain.”

The context for the proposed legislation includes a number of high profile incidents that some might consider abuses.

Writing in a recent commentary published at multiple news outlets, state Rep. Gina Galfetti noted the incidents:

A number of actions that some might consider abuses have caused fresh attention to be drawn to the sheriffs. The recently elected sheriff in Franklin County has been accused of assaulting a prisoner in custody and will likely stand trial despite his position as sheriff. The former sheriff in Bennington County was absent from Vermont for a large part of his last year in office; he has now moved to Tennessee. In his last days as sheriff, the former sheriff in Caledonia County used $400,000 of accumulated proceeds from contracts to give himself and his deputies bonuses. And having been defeated for re-election, the former sheriff in Orange County virtually stripped his office before his term ran out, leaving his successor with a mostly non-functioning department. The Legislature has taken notice.

While Galfetti noted the misdeeds are worth attention, she nevertheless characterized S.17 as an attempt to “kill a mosquito with a sledge hammer.”

Historical roots of the sheriff

The concept of a sheriff began at least eight centuries ago. Sheriffs in Europe were largely responsible for enforcing the principles of the Magna Carta, a document concerning citizens’ rights, which was signed by King John of England in 1215. It is considered a precursor to the U.S. Constitution.

Today, American sheriffs are largely seen as protectors of the citizenry to whom they are directly accountable through elections.

According to an article by the National Sheriff’s Association, “the Sheriff is the only head of a law enforcement agency in this nation that is accountable directly to the people of his /her jurisdiction. In 2010, the National Sheriffs’ Association passed resolution 2010-11 that succinctly presents the reasons why the Sheriff needs to be maintained as an elected office as it has since the early history of our country.”

Marc Poulin, a newly elected sheriff for the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, told True North that sheriffs are unique in law enforcement.

“It’s a different kind of service — you are a constitutional law enforcement officer, people look at you differently in a lot of circumstances,” he said. “It is a labor of love, it’s not traditional law enforcement.”

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North. Send him news tips at and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Washington County Sheriff Facebook

2 thoughts on “Bill would reform oversight of sheriffs, reduce their pay, and more

    • Probably because Sheriffs get their power from the Vermont constitution. This group of progressive democrats do not honor the constitution of the USA or Vermont even though they take an oath to defend it. We have a lawless legislature at the present time. They do as they want knowing that they will have to be sued to correct their lawlessness. This is what you get when you elect people who are loyal to an agenda over the rights of their constituents who they are supposed to represent and not just rule over them. So here we have them messing with a constitutional office of which they have no authority in doing. If this is passed, county sheriffs should all resign or go on strike. Let the legislators transport dangerous prisoners to and from court to prison. Let them man the courts and patrol the rural counties. Keep voting for democrat/progressives to finish off the once great state of Vermont.

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