The Office of Sheriff is created by the Wisconsin Constitution (Article VI, Section 4). It is an elected office in each county with a four year term. Consequently, the Sheriff is a constitutional officer who is the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the County. The Sheriff’s duties are varied and for the most part are defined in the Wisconsin Statutes. These duties include, enforcing state law and County ordinances, maintaining the peace, running the jail, and serving both criminal and civil process.
Duties of the Sheriff's Office
The Office of Sheriff has certain unique duties, powers, and responsibilities different from other law enforcement agencies. Some of these include:
• Command the law enforcement force of the County.
• Take charge and custody of the Jail and the Juvenile Detention Center.
• Attend upon the Circuit Court and the Court of Appeals.
• Serve or execute all processes, writs, precepts, and legal orders.
• Enforce all orders of the State of Wisconsin relating to explosives.
• Conduct rescues and body recoveries of human beings from the water.
• Enforce municipal ordinances in which the sheriff is under contract.
• Keep the peace and suppress all affrays and unlawful assemblies.
• Call to aid any persons or power of the County the Sheriff deems.
• Oversee the County’s Animal Control Program.
• Request assistance of, and provide assistance to, other agencies..
• Transport prisoners and mentally committed individuals in County custody.
• Calling a posse comitatus.
• Operate the County’s Public Safety Answering Point (9-1-1 Center) and Communications Center (i.e. Dispatch).
• Perform all other duties required of the Sheriff by law.
The Sheriff can, on a case by case basis, assert leadership, control, and direction by reason of his/her superior position as chief law enforcement officer of the County. It is the duty of the local police officers to cooperate. Local law enforcement personnel are subject to the command of the Sheriff even when acting within their municipal boundaries when the Sheriff exercises a call to aid under Wis. Stat. § 59.28(1). The Sheriff has concurrent authority with local law enforcement personnel regardless of municipal boundaries (61 OAG 79).
Functions of the Office
This organization is officially known as the "Office of the Sheriff" or more commonly known as the "Sheriff's Office." As the sheriff is a constitutionally elected position, the term "Sheriff's Department" is, by definition, incorrect.
What is the difference between sheriff's department and sheriff's office, and why should it matter? To answer the first question, we can turn to Black's Law Dictionary, which defines the terms as follows:
Department: 'One of the major divisions of the executive branch of the government generally, a branch or division of governmental administration.'
Office: 'A right, and correspondent duty, to exercise a public trust. A public charge or employment, the most frequent occasions to use the word arise with reference to a duty and power conferred on an individual by the government; and when this is the connection, 'public office' is a usual and more discriminating expression in the constitutional sense, the term implies an authority to exercise some portion of the sovereign power, whether in making, executing, or administering the laws.'
Clearly, the office of sheriff is not simply another department of county government. Its internal operations are the sole responsibility of the sheriff. County department heads are subordinate to a County Executive because they are truly only a division of county government, and they work for him/her and for the governing body of the county (i.e. county board.)
The Office of Sheriff, on the other hand, is a constitutional office having exclusive powers and authority. These powers are not subject to the dictates of a county executive or the whims of a county board. The powers of this office have been exercised for over a millennium.
A sheriff's office, then, is fundamentally different from a county department, which derives its limited authority from whatever is delegated to it. This delegation is made by those individuals who hold an elected position, of office, in the governing body. The use of 'department' actually refers to a subordinate unit of government, rather than to a body with inherent powers and sovereignty, such as the office of sheriff.