Sheriff’s departments–at least in California–are charged with criminal, contract, correctional and civil matters. In addition to performing law enforcement duties, they must serve eviction notices, bank and property levies, and small claims. They also staff court security as well as county jails. Some counties, like Marin, require their deputies to work in the jail before being assigned to patrol. Deputies I’ve talked to about this have mixed reviews. Some like knowing who the criminals are before they get in a patrol car. Others don’t want to be confined all day themselves. There are the counties, like Sonoma, which is staffed by classified employees called “correctional officers”. Unless they test for deputy, they will spend their entire careers in the jail.
Even before the economy tanked, municipalities found themselves in fiscal trouble. Police protection is expensive for many reasons, not the least of which is that it must provide 24/7 service. In the past two decades, Sonoma County has provided contract police services with two cities-Windsor and, most recently, Sonoma. They serve in the same capacity as a municipal department but because of their resources, can often do it cheaper. Marin County Sheriff’s Department has taken over almost all police and fire dispatching.
Deputies in rural areas such as Mono County are called upon for coroner duties. Specific certification is required before assuming those responsibilities. Please note the difference here between a Coroner and a Medical Examiner. Often, a coroner is a deputy or an elected official and is mostly found in rural areas, while a medical examiner is at minimum a medical doctor, hopefully with a background in forensic pathology. Metropolitan areas can generate funding to support this pricey level of expertise, while boondocks agencies and thinner population bases cannot. If you write a story that involves a death-anywhere-it’s best to check a similar jurisdiction to see what kind of system they have. Nothing can shoot your credibility in the foot like a “local” medical examiner in the middle of Death Valley. FYI-Death Valley has one of the highest suicide statistics in the country-just because of its name. People travel from all over the US to do themselves in at Zabriske Point. Inyo County Sheriff patrols that area but relies on out of the area ME’s-such as Las Vegas, Nevada.
Back to Sheriff’s Departments: Deputies are a different breed from city cops–as any city cop will tell you! They do things by their own rules, maybe even tending toward aggressiveness. I think there is a reasonable explanation for this. When I worked for Sonoma County SO, I knew that the logistics for patrolling 1,769 square miles (minus the 7 incorporated cities who have their own departments) with about 275 deputies (never all on at the same time) would be cause for delay if more units were needed. I often saw back-up cars with an eta of 30 plus minutes. Any deputy in a hot situation would need to be a bit of a “cowboy” to survive. If you cannot, you don’t belong in a patrol car on the Sonoma Coast or in the remote hills of the Geysers or the multitude of vineyards. If you want some interesting reading, check out the history tab of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department. Many stories, there!
This is one of the reasons I chose Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department as the setting for my first book. These are tough people who use the ingenuity that God gave them, sometimes with force.
They get the job done.
Next week, we’ll talk about Public Safety Departments, California Highway Patrol, State Police, the Marshal’s office and more.