Sheriff DeLay: ‘The biggest problem is citizens do not understand what we do’

Lawrence County Sheriff Brad DeLay spoke to students at the Lawrence County Citizens Academy about how the department operates and some of the practices law enforcement officials undertake.

“When people look on our website and see someone has been released from jail, often times that individual has been sent to a county where more serious charges are pending,” DeLay said. “Don’t worry, he’ll be back.”

In breaking down the stereotypes of law enforcement officials, DeLay said a number of residents only have television icons to compare to their local officials.

“They think of Andy Griffith and Barney Fife as representatives of good law enforcement and the Sheriff of Nottingham and the old west-style shootouts at the O.K. Corral for some who are not as well liked,” he said.

The office of sheriff can actually be traced back to 600 B.C. in the book of Daniel.

“The Roman sheriffs played a military role and it didn’t last,” DeLay said. “The sheriffs of Spain, France and England all had a duty to keep the peace among all citizens.”

The Roman sheriffs had the responsibility of keeping and maintaining order among the slaves, controlling unruly citizens and controlling fires.

The office established by Caesar was the first known departure from using military personnel, but again, their duties included controlling fires, arresting thieves, housebreakers and suppressing riots.

The Spanish, French and English all developed legal systems at about the same time.

“Peacekeepers have existed throughout history,” DeLay said. “They work to prevent crimes against the community. In England, they established reeves, and the sheriff was elected by serfs. They had no Lord to protect them and the reeve became the guarantor of the survival of the group. He made sure serfs started work on time and did not cheat the Lord out of money.”

In England, families organized into groups of 10, known as tithing, and appointed a tythingman to head each group. Each member of the tithing was held responsible for keeping the peace, and every member was also held responsible for the crimes of one. They were responsible for catching the offender and taking him to court, or else the entire tything could be punished.

From there, the tythings expanded to organized groups of 100 families, which formed shires.

“The reeve of the entire shire was the sheriff,” DeLay said.

In America, Virginia was the first state to establish the office of sheriff, and in 1607, the Jamestown constable became the first peace officer. Sheriffs were then appointed until the onset of the American Revolution.

In Missouri the first elected sheriff was named in 1820, but it wasn’t until 1847 that the first sheriff was elected in Lawrence County.

“The sheriff enforces the law, services the courts and maintains corrections,” DeLay said. “We’ve served and protected the English-speaking people for thousands of years.”

The position of sheriff is the most powerful in the county.

“This is a constitutional office,” DeLay said. “The sheriff can only be removed from office by the governor or attorney general. The sheriff can only be arrested by the county coroner. The Missouri State Highway Patrol has to report to the sheriff before they can do anything in the county. The sheriff has the right to tell the Drug Enforcement Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies to get out of the county.

“Perhaps the biggest scare was eight years ago when people thought their guns were going to be taken away,” DeLay said. “The sheriff is the only person that can stop that. That is why Missouri Sheriffs joined ranks to write letters to Washington stating we would stand against the removal of arms from citizens of our counties. That was a big deal. Even sovereign citizens believe that the county sheriff is the most powerful law-enforcement officer in the country, with authority superior to that of any federal agent or elected official.”

The duties of today’s sheriffs and deputies are protecting human life, public peace and order and protecting the rights of individuals and property. They enforce the law and jail those who break it.

Challenges facing many sheriff’s offices these days are shrinking budgets, and both time and resources inadequate to cover their assigned duties.

“The county has 625 road miles and I have 10 deputies to cover them,” DeLay said. “Sometimes staffing requires that only one deputy is on duty at night. It takes awhile for that one deputy to get from Miller to the south end of the county on a call. Travel time can be extensive on some calls.”

Students attending the Citizens Academy will continue to learn about the laws of arrest, search and seizure, property crimes, victim services, and what happens when a citizen files a complaint in upcoming classes.

By Melonie Roberts | The Monett Times