Cops are everywhere. These days in America, everybody seems to have a badge. But by common law at least a thousand years old, only the sheriff has elected authority over local law enforcement. The “MAN,” in some cases a woman, is still the bottom line on “legal” in some 3,000 jurisdictions of the United States.
Even after the British in about the 17th century let go of the system of a “reeve” in every “shire,” it remained an essential element of English Common Law, mentioned nine times in the freedom-founding document of the Magna Carta alone and still generally acknowledged as the lynchpin of the American justice system. Next to the King himself, the “shire reeve” was the realm’s most powerful authority, not only in matters of law enforcement and tax collection, but in raising the “hue and cry” to rally the residents against a general threat, including that from another monarch.
Robin Hood might recognize the ticket book as tax collection on a country highway, and most common country drunks can testify after any weekend to the effectiveness of a night in “gaol.” Less recognized these days, however, is the sort of formal hueing and crying that pits a number of western sheriffs and their constituents against what they see as expanding authority of the federal government into local matters. In many a shire, the reeve has about had it with the feds.
“They despise me,” Eureka County, Nev., Sheriff Ken Jones says of his federal counterparts in the law enforcement division of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. “I think they draw straws just to see who gets the dreaded duty of giving me a phone call.”
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