These folks are in charge of one-quarter of the police officers across the land, they run the jails, and they're elected by you. Last Week Tonight took a deep dive into how sheriffs' departments work.
March 9, 2020

On "Last Week Tonight," John Oliver emphasized the importance of those down ballot races to which people pay so little attention. For example, do you know who your sheriff is? Or even if you have a sheriff? That's important...and you should find out, because apparently 25% of local law enforcement officers work for sheriffs. When you vote for county and state legislators, you're deciding to whom that sheriff is accountable, because guess what? Sheriffs are elected.

Oliver runs down all kinds of examples of problematic sheriffs around the country: two in South Carolina (one who produces weirdo PSAs about drugs, and another who made a campaign ad admitting to wearing blackface, but justifying it because HEY! The dude was a CRIMINAL!) There's one in California, in whose care 40 people have died in the last five years, and 29 women have sued for mistreatment and abuse. There's the guy in Alabama who bought a beach house with the money he saved by not feeding the inmates of his prisons.

That's right, in Alabama, sheriffs can KEEP leftover funds meant to feed prisoners, which serves as a great incentive to starve the prisoners. This sheriff literally bought himself a $740,000 beach house with the money he pocketed from not feeing prisoners in his care.

There are, of course, one or two good ones. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez (D) in Texas pushes hard for bail reform, and has even enacted a program wherein he doesn't jail folks for non-violent offenses. But there are way too many like Sheriff Joe Arpaio and others.

OLIVER: Sheriff Joe famously prioritized immigration enforcement to the detriment of other concerns, like investigating sexual assault. And Sheriff Richard Jones, in Butler County, Ohio, has refused to allow his deputies to carry Narcan to rescue people who may have overdosed, which is an incredible policy to adopt, in a place where at one point, overdoses were killing more people than all other causes of death combined.

Jones has argued that it is unsafe for his officers to help revive people, but the more he talks, the more it seems that he thinks those people are actually worth reviving at all.

Oliver pointed out that 59% all sheriffs ran unopposed. People within law enforcement are loathe to challenge them for fear of retribution.

OLIVER: But that cannot be allowed to continue. Thankfully, the same criminal justice movement that has been putting a spotlight on district attorneys' races is now increasingly focused on sheriffs' races, too. And that is not a moment too soon, because right now we have a position that has a tremendous amount of authority with low accountability, which is always an inevitable recipe for disaster. So if there is a sheriff's race in your area this year, now would be an excellent time to start googling, "Who the fuck is my sheriff?" and learning about them.

This is why it is so important to pay close attention to local government, and the policies of your local law enforcement. Google is just a few clicks away.

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