The Office of Sheriff is one of antiquity, the history of which begins in the Old Testament and continues through the annals of Judeo-Christian tradition. This oldest of all law enforcement agencies had its beginnings in a past so distant that historical dispute clouds its first formal establishment. Indeed, there is no honorable law enforcement authority in Anglo-American law so ancient as that of the County Sheriff. Today as in the past, the County Sheriff is a peace officer entrusted with the maintenance of law and order and the preservation of domestic tranquility.
Sheriffs have served and protected the English-speaking peoples for a thousand years. The Office of Sheriff and the law enforcement, judicial and correctional functions he performs are more than 1000 years old. The office of Sheriff dates back at least to the reign of Alfred the Great of England, and some scholars even argue that the office of Sheriff was first created during the Roman occupation of England.
Around 500 AD, Germanic tribes from Europe (called the Anglo-Saxons) began an invasion of Celtic England, which eventually led over the centuries to the consolidation of Anglo-Saxon England as a unified kingdom under Alfred the Great late in the 9th Century. Alfred divided England into geographic units called "shires", or counties.
In 1066, William the Conqueror defeated the Anglo-Saxons and instituted his own Norman government in England. Both under the Anglo-Saxons and under the Normans, the King of England appointed a representative called a "reeve" to act on behalf of the king in each shire or county. The "shire-reeve" or King's representative in each county became the "Sheriff" as the English language changed over the years. The shire-reeve, or Sheriff, was the chief law enforcement officer of each county in the year 1000 AD.
In 1941, Walter H. Anderson, a prominent attorney of the Idaho, California, and Tennessee state Bar and Supreme Court of the United States Bar wrote "A Treatise on the Law of Sheriffs" which has become the foremost legal authority on the subject of Sheriffs. Anderson states that "the Sheriff's primary obligation is to represent the sovereignty, authority, and interests of the state in his respective jurisdiction", whereas the Police department represents the interests of the local jurisdiction. In preserving the rights of the government, he (the Sheriff) represents the sovereignty of the state and has no superior in his county. But now, perhaps more than ever before in history, law enforcement is faced with complex, moving, rapid changes in methodology, technology, and social attitudes. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in his "The Value of Constitutions", " the Office of Sheriff is the most important of all the executive offices of the county".
History of the Office of the Sheriff in Florida
General Andrew Jackson accepted Florida from Spain on July 10th 1821. President James Monroe appointed Jackson Military Governor. Jackson established the first two counties; Escambia and St. Johns. Basically dividing the state in two. In each county General Jackson appointed a Sheriff, thus establishing the office of Sheriff in each county.
Florida's first constitution, adopted in 1845 when Florida joined the Union, created the office of Sheriff as an elected official in each county. The concepts of "county" and "Sheriff" were essentially the same as they had been during the previous 900 years of English legal history. Because the English heritage of the American colonies, the new United States had adopted the English law and legal institutions as its own.
Florida's constitution has been revised several times through the years, but the constitutional provisions establishing the office of Sheriff remains the same as it was in 1845, which, in turn, is strikingly similar to the functioning of the office of Sheriff at the time of Alfred the Great and William the Conqueror. The major difference, of course, is that the Kings of England appointed their Sheriffs. From the earliest times in America, our Sheriffs have been elected by the people to serve as the principal law enforcement officer of each county. There were some exceptions to this immediately after the Civil War, in which Sheriffs in the southern states were appointed by the state governors due to the reconstruction process.
History of the Leon County Sheriff's Office
On March 30th, 1822, the United States merged East Florida and part of West Florida into the Florida Territory. Originally part of Escambia and later Gadsden County, Leon County was created in 1824. It was named for Juan Ponce de Leon, the Spanish explorer who was the first European to reach Florida.
In 1825, William Cameron became the first Sheriff of the newly created Leon County. On March 3rd, 1845, Florida joined the Union as the 27th State and Leon County became the capital county of Florida. Florida's first Constitution, adopted in 1845 when Florida joined the Union, created the office of Sheriff as an elected official in each county. Since 1825, twenty-eight Sheriff's have served the citizens of Leon County.
On January 3rd, 2017, Sheriff Walter A. McNeil was sworn in as the twenty-eighth Sheriff of Leon County.