By Schenectady Sheriff Harry C. Buffardi© 1998. The History of the Office of Sheriff was published and copyrighted in 1998 by Schenectady County Sheriff Harry C. Buffardi.
Being a bit of an academic, I began to look into the origins of the office. . . . The problem was that there were no readily available books about the office of sheriff. I found books about police chiefs, police officers, state police officers, police detectives, narcotics police officers, and even police dogs. I was able to locate books about the F.B.I., C.I.A., A.T.F., and the D.E.A., but my local bookstore did not have a single book about the office of sheriff. My efforts to order a book about the sheriff through my local vendor were also unsuccessful.
Through a law enforcement organization I was able to locate David R. Struckhoff's, The American Sheriff, which as a research piece did provide some insight. I was also able to locate two books that were out of print relative to the subject: The Sheriff by Irene Gladwin, which traces the office in England, and The Seventeenth Century Sheriff by Cyrus Karracker, which addresses issues about the Colonial sheriff in the Chesapeake Colonies of America. These works were of tremendous value to my research on this project.
The classic tale of Robin Hood tells us in fictional form about the sheriff of Nottingham and his evil doings. The story depicts Robin Hood and his merry men as a group of idealistic criminals that support the poor through thefts. A diabolical sheriff attempts to apprehend the thieves on behalf of an evil king. Though the tale is a fable, the anecdotes accurately reflect typical sheriffs of that era.
Had the office of sheriff not moved to the New World, as a pre-established governmental form of enforcement, it may have perished in England. In America, the office found a new and revitalized life in government. It prompted Thomas Jefferson to write in his The Value of Constitutions, "the office of sheriff is the most important of all the executive offices of the county".
The most exciting time for the office of sheriff in American history was the Wild West period. . . . However, much of the literature does not have accurate historical value. . . . Probably the reason there is so much creative imagery about this period is because of the violence associated with it. The American public has always been interested in aggressive behavior . . . .
Sheriffs who helped tame the region did so with a dramatic, as well as turbulent flair. Stories about Wild West sheriffs and villains have become the American version of the morality play.
The American sheriff in the Old West provided a foundation for community oriented law enforcement. The office has not only survived, it has flourished. The most significant issue regarding the longevity of the office lies with the concept that under most circumstances it is an elected position. This allows members of the community to have impact on the selection process, and the removal process, by virtue of their vote.
No one specific piece of scholarly literature exists that deals with the total history and perspective of the office of sheriff. . . The following work will synthesize information from a variety of sources. . . .
The office of sheriff . . . deserves special treatment in the form of historical research. I am obligated to provide it in return for the exhilarating career it has provided me. I speak about this office with a certain reverence, yet, I realize that others may not share my passion. Hopefully, some may find it a worthy read either for its historical value or for other law enforcement interest.