Meet Our Sheriff


Sheriff John Wilson

-History of the office of Sheriff

*By the Michigan Sheriffs Association
The word sheriff is derived from the two words shire meaning county, and reeve meaning an ancient English officer of justice.
Following the Norman conquest of England in 1066 the sheriff gradually became the principal officer of a county. Appointment to the office was made by the King and obviously the sheriff was the Kings man. Principally the sheriffs duties were the collection of the Kings taxes, acting as the Kings fiscal officer and keeping the Kings peace.
Several references are made to sheriffs in the Magna Carta which King John of England was forced to sign on June 15, 1215.
In what became the United States, counties were finally organized in Virginia in 1634. When they were, the sheriff was their head. It was specifically provided by the legislative body of the colony then that the sheriff should have as near as possible the powers the duties of a sheriff of the English shires. Appointment of sheriffs were made by the colonial governors.

Records in the Michigan archives state that the Ordinance of 1787 established the Northwest Territory of which Michigan was a part and defined the procedure for obtaining statehood. Detroit became a part of the administrative district of Hesse under British civil government.
A court of common pleas, county lieutenant, Sheriff and justices of the peace were established in each district.
Evidently 1787 was the first time the office of Sheriff was established in Michigan; however, the State Library cannot locate the name of the Sheriff.*

Wayne County was the first county to be organized in Michigan having a county Sheriff. The Tenth Territorial Papers covering the years 1805-1820 reveal that Gov. Lewis Cass on November 21, 1815, appointed James H. Audrain the Sheriff of Wayne County and constable of the district of Erie.

In this country with the development of the office, the outstanding difference is that the Sheriff became an elected official as provided for in most state constitutions. It should be noted that a sheriff is the only elected peace officer in each county, which results in local control of police activities by the people rather than by the state.
The Michigan Constitution of 1963 provides for the election of a sheriff in each of the 83 counties in Michigan.1 Thus, as an elected constitutional police officer, the sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in each county.
His responsibilities cover the entire spectrum of law enforcement criminal investigations, traffic patrol and accidents, service of all legal processes of the courts, operation of the county jail, marine and snowmobile safety, education and enforcement and total police service on a 24-hour basis. His primary duty is to provide complete police services to the unincorporated areas of the county. However, he maintains full police jurisdiction in all municipalities, townships and villages. All sheriffs have full police authority in any county in Michigan when requested to assist by another sheriff.
Unfortunately, the detailing of the exact duties of a sheriff, as provided over the years by the legislature, are scattered throughout the numerous volumes of the recorded statutes of Michigan. In addition, many of the duties and responsibilities of a sheriff are rooted in the common law, or case law, which may necessitate lengthy research to establish authority or a principle.

An interesting phenomenon exists today in Michigan county government. There is no executive head. All other levels of government provide for one individual, such as a president, governor, supervisor, mayor, etc., who is the chief administrative officer. Historically, both in England and in this county, the sheriff was the executive head of the county. Thomas Jefferson, in his work called The Value of Constitutions, wrote the office of sheriff is the most important of all the executive offices of the country.
Blacks Law Dictionary defines a sheriff as The chief executive and administrative officer of a county, being chosen by popular election.
More or less by default the executive duties of county government have been assumed by the board of commissioners and, more specifically, the chairman of the board which, of course, violates the separation of powers doctrine.

The county board of commissioners is empowered to set and approve the sheriffs budget, but otherwise has little or no authority over the sheriff or his department.
Few people realize the extent of the duties and responsibilities of a sheriff. Because of nearly autonomous status a sheriff may find himself immersed in a host of activities, all requiring a semblance of skill and judgment.
Basically a sheriff department has two essential functions police work and jail operation both of which are 24 hour a day, seven days a week operations. The modern-day sheriff is confronted more and more with administrative problems requiring expertise not only in policing activities but business management as well. Numerous reports are required by state and federal agencies. Accounting procedures must reflect state guidelines.

New legislation and court decisions are constantly impacting upon the criminal justice system. For example, decriminalization of alcohol use, civil rights, Miranda warnings, changes in the mental health code, changes in the juvenile code and many others. All of these affect the operations of a sheriff department. All are fairly recent developments or a subject of increased activity.
History of Clare County
Clare Countys eastern townships were organized by Midland County in March, 1870, and the western townships by Mecosta County in 1871. Farwell was the host village of our original county seat. Speculators had purchased land in Clare County as early as 1854, but large scale lumbering did not begin until after the Civil War. Homesteaders began arriving just prior to the Flint & Pere Marquette Railroad (1870) and claimed the better agricultural acreages under the Homestead Act of 1862, or by exchanging Military Script for eighty acres or more.
The Flint & Pere Marquette railroad came to Clare in 1870 and was extended to Evart in 1871. Now that the means were available, immigrants, woodsmen, homesteaders, and drifters began to populate our county. The lumbermen made the quickest and heaviest impact upon our resources by felling most of our forests. Necessity, being the mother on invention, caused a revolution in the woods when Scott Gerrish needed an efficient method to get tens of thousands of remote logs into the Muskegon River. He built and operated a special logging railroad between land locked timber tracts near Lake George and Temple, on the Muskegon River. These logs were rolled in stupendous quantities to the railways. This innovative railroad extended the wealth of the County by 300%, but most of this new money went to Saginaw, Muskegon, and Chicago.

Clare County has had its troubles with lawless elements. Some of this conflict was generated by farmers in Grant and Sheridan Townships when Lumbermen took local government from their control. The Board of Supervisors retaliated by withholding funds for a new jail at Harrison and the sheriff was not compensated for transporting lawless men to jails in Midland or Osceola Counties. The County went feral following this interval.
After the timber was gone, our homesteader/farmers took over the pine barrens and began nurturing our soil back to productivity. During the 1930s large oil fields were discovered and developed with capital supplied by various sorts of businessmen.
Since the Spanish-American war, we have sent our young men to help defeat Americas enemies. By the 1990s Clare County had invested large amounts of fiscal resources into its educational and cultural institutions.

As a County, we look to the new century with eager anticipation. Residents, farmers, light industry and tourists benefit from our vision. Our citizens expect the good like because the infrastructure of our county is good and getting better. Clare County has become one of Michigans favorite residential district for we have hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, golfing, and other recreations in our back yards.
NOTE: Clare County was originally designated as KAYKAKEE.