The word “Sheriff” is a combination of the Anglo-Saxon words for “shire” (what we today call a “county”) and “reeve” (meaning “guardian”). The county guardians of Anglo-Saxon England were responsible for organizing communal defense. Often, they led the shire’s militia, as part of King Alfred’s reorganization of national defense which finally protected the nation from Danish invaders and marauders.
By the time that the American Colonies were being settled, the Office of Sheriff was declining in England, but the move across the Atlantic brought new energy and importance to the Office. The Americans restored what they considered to be the ancient Anglo-Saxon practice of popular election of Sheriffs. The Americans also strongly reaffirmed the traditional common law understanding of the Sheriff’s powers and authorities, especially the Sheriff’s autonomy and independence.
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