In other parts of the world the police's chiefs are selected by the city mayor or the city council, but in almost all counties of United States they are elected.

  1. Why are they elected, and not selected by the mayor?
  2. Has it always been this way?
  • It's worth noting that the UK recently moved towards this method: "In the first ever elections, 41 new police and crime commissioners have been elected across England and Wales to give you a say when it comes to cutting crime in your area." (homeoffice.gov.uk/police/police-crime-commissioners) - even if it was marred by an extremely low level of turnout! Dec 7, 2012 at 19:31
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    Although PCCs are not sworn in officers of the law. Their job is in administration (hiring and firing of the chief constable [which is more similar to the role of the sheriff], setting budgets etc.)
    – UKB
    Dec 7, 2012 at 23:28
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    Note in some countries, police are not selected at the local level but rather at the state or federal level; and relocated and promoted accordingly. Oct 8, 2013 at 11:25
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    Also note that sheriffs are not the same as police chiefs and sheriff's departments and police departments play different roles in the US. Feb 12, 2016 at 1:38
  • In the US, many counties do not have a county executive (who wouldn't generally be called a mayor). They are not cities (except in a few cases, like Philadelphia, where the city and county have the same borders).
    – Brythan
    Feb 12, 2016 at 6:51

3 Answers 3


A Sheriff in the US is also usually a county or city official, which are traditionally elected. There are exceptions, however, the Sheriff of New York City is directly appointed by the mayor.

The duties of the Sheriff are relatively static, and usually uncoupled from the efforts of appointed law enforcement officials. There's no real reason why a Sheriff would need to be appointed to be more effective in his or her office (in most places), so it remains an elected office allowing for the people to determine if a changing of the guard might be in order.

Depending on the location, the duties of a Sheriff might be almost or completely ceremonial, for which term elections would make sense.


The Sheriff is elected by the people in the county to be a check and balance against the other two branches of government, to be the first line of defense that the people have against bad laws. The courts have upheld this from the beginning. In fact, some states, like Delaware, have gotten rid of the check authority of the Sheriff because the legislature found such a check against its power to be inconvenient. This is also why many state Constitutions mandate a Sheriff, to sustain the tripartite system through checks and balances against unconstitutional legislation. This is what Madison prescribed to sustain a free state.

For an example of checks and balances, see Los Angeles where local sheriffs refused to enforce the recent mask mandate in any way. The only recourse county officials have is to initiate a recall/impeachment, triggering a new election that might elect someone who's more in line with what the local government wants to do. But they cannot compel the sheriff to act in a certain manner.

  • I'd note that the Sheriff system was a wonderful check and balance against government overreach during COVID, as the vast majority of police refused to enforce most COVID restrictions. Other countries weren't so lucky... Mar 9, 2022 at 0:18

To see why Sheriffs are elected you need to understand the power of the sheriff and why it is necessary for them to represent the people directly and not be just an extension of the governments power.


This webpage explains this relationship. If sheriffs are appointed they just become another arm of an already oppressive "Big Government". The Sheriff is part of the peoples protection against over reaching political power.

Jim Isbell, Candidate for San Patricio County TX Sheriff.

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    It should be noted that this viewpoint is considered a fringe viewpoint: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Mack
    – user1530
    Feb 11, 2016 at 19:37
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    @blip On what justification are you claiming it's a fringe viewpoint, and why would that matter if it accurately explains why sheriff's are elected?
    – user9614
    Nov 9, 2017 at 0:15
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    Because it's a viewpoint only shared by a few on the fringe and, as such, is not an accurate explanation.
    – user1530
    Nov 9, 2017 at 0:28

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