Police

Sheriffs' Offices Have More Than Doubled in Size Since 1993

For better or worse, the role of U.S. sheriffs' offices has been expanding and getting more complex.

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Peggy Peattie/ZUMA Press/Newscom

The number of people employed full-time at U.S. sheriffs' offices jumped 57 percent from 1993 through 2013, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).

By 2014, some 352,000 people across the country worked full-time for a sheriff's office, including 163,000 civilian staffers and 189,000 sworn officers (aka the ones who can arrest you). So, what accounts for this rising tide of sheriffs' office staff? 

In the U.S., sheriffs' offices typically operate at the county level, are directed by an elected county sheriff, and run some sort of local jail. But that's about where the similarities between them end. Between states and between counties within them, sheriffs' department duties and roles vary widely. Some are largely administrative, serving warrants and other court papers. Some are an area's only police force. In places prone to natural disasters, sheriffs' offices wind up doing a lot of emergency management. In counties containing big cities, they wind up as a liaison to federal law-enforcement on big drug, gang, or—more recently—prostitution busts. 

Over the past two decades, more of the growth at sheriffs' offices comes from an increase in full-time civilian employees, the BJS reported. While the number of sworn agents jumped just 21 percent from 1993 through 2013, the ranks of civilian staff swelled by 138 percent. On the civilian side, that's a net gain of 94,500 new full-time sheriff's office employees, suggesting whole new levels of county-government bloat and bureaucracy. 

The 3,100 new sworn sheriff's officers, however, shouldn't be overlooked—especially considering more recent hiring trajectories. From 2007 through 2013, civilian personnel at sheriff's offices actually decreased by six percent, losing 11,100 employees. During this same time period, the number of full-time sworn officers grew 10 percent and the number of part-time sworn officers also increased, by 40 percent. 

Why the need for so much more manpower? BJS doesn't speculate, and getting to the root of that question properly is the subject for a much longer article. But one short answer is that the role of county sheriffs' offices has been expanding and getting more complex. 

Perhaps because they're led by elected officials, sheriff's offices are prone to the same sort of empire-building behavior typical of federal departments and agencies. Perusing recent news from and about U.S. sheriffs' offices, you can see them getting more involved in both community policing and federal law-enforcement operations, in addition to just expanding generally. For instance, in California, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department recently got a Mental Evaluation Bureau, the Orange County Sheriff's Office is taking on a more prominent role in policing Disney World, and up the coast in San Luis Obispo County, two deputies are being added this summer to the Sheriff's Gang Task Force.

Want a few more examples? 

The BJS report also contained some interesting demographic tidbits for U.S. sheriffs' officers. For the first time, in 2013, sheriff's offices employed more full-time Hispanic officers than black officers. Overall, 78 percent of sworn officers were white, 11 percent were Hispanic, and 9 percent were black.

The number of non-white officers did increase somewhat between 1993 and 2013, from 17 percent of the total force to 22 percent. The number of female officers has also been growing, from 20,800 in 2007 to 26,100 in 2013. Overall, 86 percent of sworn sheriff's officers were men and 14 percent were women. 

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  1. Why the need for so much more manpower?

    Obviously because the population of the counties jumped 57 percent from 1993 through 2013.

  2. WOD WOT WOE

  3. As legislatures criminalize more behavior and state and federal grants continue to flow and every goddamn thing is supposedly out to get soccer moms and their offspring, police departments across the board grow.

  4. Bad example mentioning that boat. It has ‘fire’ cannons, not cannon canons.

    1. If our heroes in brown say they need the U.S.S. Pachelbel, they should have it.

      1. +1 overplayed wedding song

  5. Fighting all these wars costs, yo.

  6. The population of our suburban, unincorporated county has exploded in that time frame. We rely on the Sheriff for local police protection in lieu of a city police force.

    Obviously that means the rest of the country is doing the same thing.

  7. Local sheriff near me just acts as a revenue source by giving out moving violations. He does NOT respond to 911 calls, the state coppers do that. When they get around to it. And don’t forget to add drive time.

  8. Not to be pedantic, but the Orange County/Disney World reference is about the one in Florida and not California as the article implies. The overall point remains accurate, but placing it in that paragraph muddies the facts.

  9. (standard libertarian disclaimer – we are way overpoliced as a nation, the huge growth in non-sworn personnel is indicative of empire building and budget bloat, etc.)

    But I do suspect that part of this is driven by the trend towards large planned developments outside of existing cities. There have been a lot of these constructed over the last 20 years in Texas (many of my family and coworkers live in them) and in most of them, the county sheriff’s department is the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction, as they are in ‘unincorporated’ space. I don’t know if the growth in those areas has been +57% in the last 20 years, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was in that range.

    Also, I doubt you see a corresponding budget / personnel DECREASE in the urban and suburban cities these populations relocated from, but that’s a whole separate problem.

  10. Sheriffs’ Offices Have More Than Doubled in Size Since 1993…

    The number of people employed full-time at U.S. sheriffs’ offices jumped 57 percent from 1993 through 2013, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).

  11. The NYC sheriff’s office is all about $.

  12. A friend not long ago retired from a sheriff’s office as a detective:

    Most sheriff departments are rural and are traditionally understaffed with sworn officers. The national average for law enforcement agencies when I was at PCSO [Pima County Sheriff’s Office] was 2.23 sworn officers per 1000 population. Pima county operated then at 1.27 per 1000 population. As for the increase in civilian employees, sheriff’s departments have had to increase records keeping, increase and improve staffing for forensic analysis and evidence management, and respond to an avalanche of state and federal mandates that require more administration. Her list of “increases” after the text also deserved context. She mentioned Polk County in OR. increasing from 10 to 20 hours per day. This is an attempt to return to adequate coverage of the county after their force was slashed due to budget problems. The 10 hours referred to that fact that Polk county had ONE officer on duty for ten hours a day to cover the county (Polk county is adjacent to the county I live in). That context is missing from the bloggers obvious attempt to accuse law enforcement of overstaffing, when the truth is that most agencies remain understaffed. The combined Newberg/Dundee Police Dept. is only 37 commissioned full time officers to serve a population of over 26,000. We rely heavily on reserve officers who provide 16 hours each per month….

    Phil

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