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Sheriff’s Race – A Crowded Field And Lots Of Questions

6 Democrats, 5 Republican, and Two Free Agents In County Election Melee

By William Legault

This elec307616_410157745726836_578100825_ntion season, for the first time in many years looks to be a competitive race for Essex County Sheriff.  Frank Cousins has served in that seat since he was appointed by Governor William Weld in 1996 and was elected to a full six-year term in 1998.  He has decided not to seek another term.

Over the last 309 years 25 separate sheriffs have saved in the position.  Four served joint, or multiple but separate terms.

This year there are thirteen candidates that have turned in enough signatures to get their names on the ballot.  Two are unenrolled, meaning that they have no party affiliation.  Their names will automatically appear on the final November ballot.  The six democrats and the five republican hopefuls will have to compete in their respective party primaries on 8 September.

This means that on 8 November there will be four names on the ballot for Sheriff.

** ADVANCE SUNDAY, APRIL 18 **Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins gestures as he talks Thursday, April 8, 2004, about a treatment program run by Essex County, known as Women in Transition in Salisbury, Mass. Cousins, who supports such transitional programs, says it makes sense socially and financially. (AP Photo/Greg Cooper)

(AP Photo/Greg Cooper)

The Sheriff is one of the few county offices in Massachusetts that has not been fully absorbed by state government.  There are fourteen counties in Massachusetts and all have their own elected sheriffs who serve six-year terms.

The primary duty of the Sheriff’s Department is to maintain and operate the house of corrections and county jail.  Those corrections duties include transporting prisoners to and from the courts and any other required facilities.  They also serve for civil process.  Although they do have police powers, they generally only serve as support for local municipal and state law enforcement agencies.  In is not unusual to see sheriff’s deputies serving as traffic support or for large public events.  Here in Salem we see them helping out every year in October.

The Essex County Sheriff’s Department also has an active K-9 unit that will support local police departments on an as needed basis.

This election prompts t1972413_251800958339468_2290980320574117596_nhree questions from Salem Digest.

Are party affiliations really appropriate?  Municipal elections are run without party affiliations.  You never see a D or an R on the ballot alongside a candidates name.  Conventions, and all the rest of the party processes are not held because they are not needed.  The democrats and the republicans can endorse and campaign for their favored candidates, but that is all.

The same process should serve for sheriff.  I fail to see what party designation has to do with a law enforcement position.  Whether or not a candidate is a member of the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the United Independents Party, or the Green Party means very little.

Why is the County Sheriff still an elected position?  This is obviously a professional position that is best served by somebody with experience in corrections, court processes, and law enforcement.  Party politics should not be involved.

It may be time to look into removing it from the electoral process and move it into the realm of appointed positions.

What are your thoughts on these questions?  Give us your feedback in the comments section below.

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