The Office of Sheriff

The Office of Sheriff traces its origins to tenth century England and is firmly rooted in the common law. It is the oldest law enforcement office known within the common law system and is accorded dignity and high trust. The American Colonies adopted the Office of Sheriff and the position evolved into that of, ”Chief Law Enforcement Officer,” in nearly all states. Today, the Office of Sheriff protects the citizenry in 3084 American counties.

As the chief and only elected law enforcement officer, the Office of Sheriff is unique in that the sheriff is accountable directly to the people. This allows the sheriff the freedom to speak out on matters affecting criminal justice and public safety.

The Office of Sheriff has existed in Washington since the formation of the Washington Territory in 1853. The Office of Sheriff is established by Article XI, Section 5, of the Washington State Constitution. The major duties of the Office of Sheriff are prescribed in Section 36.28.010 of the Revised Code of Washington and include the following:

The sheriff is the chief executive officer and conservator of the peace of the county. In the execution of his office, he and his deputies:
  1. Shall arrest and commit to prison all persons who break the peace, or attempt to break it, and all persons guilty of public offenses;
  2. Shall defend the county against those who, by riot or otherwise, endanger the public peace or safety;
  3. Shall execute the process and orders of the courts of justice or judicial officers, when delivered for that purpose, according to law;
  4. Shall execute all warrants delivered for that purpose by other public officers, according to the provisions of particular statutes;
  5. Shall attend the sessions of the courts of record held within the county, and obey their lawful orders or directions;
  6. Shall keep and preserve the peace in their respective counties, and quiet and suppress all affrays, riots, unlawful assemblies and insurrections, for which purpose, and for the service of process in civil or criminal cases, and in apprehending or securing any person for felony or breach of the peace, they may call to their aid such persons, or power of their county as they may deem necessary.
The Office of Sheriff and the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office have existed in Whatcom County since 1854. Whatcom County's first sheriff was Ellis "Yankee" Barnes. Sheriff Bill Elfo is the 36th person to hold the Office of Sheriff in Whatcom County. For a list of all previous Whatcom County Sheriffs, click here.

Whatcom County is a Home Rule Washington County. The Office of Sheriff was reaffirmed in Article 3 of the County Charter to include those duties prescribed by the Revised Code of Washington. In 1989, the Whatcom County Code was amended to establish a Division of Emergency Management within the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office and to designate the Sheriff as Director of Emergency Management (Chapter 2.40 of the Whatcom County Code).

Whatcom County is unique among Washington counties as its sheriff is a non-partisan elected office (one of three such positions in the State). Sheriff Elfo believes that it is extremely important for sheriffs to maintain credibility and confidence in all people regardless of political party affiliation and that party politics have no place in law enforcement.

Today the primary functions of the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office include:
  • Provide law enforcement services to all citizens of Whatcom County
  • Support and work cooperatively with municipal, state, tribal and federal law enforcement agencies in protecting the public
  • Enforce court orders and writs
  • Provide law enforcement services within the County Courthouse
  • Operate the Whatcom County corrections system
  • Operate the Whatcom County jail alternative programs including work crews and work release
  • Coordinate search and rescue missions
  • Prepare plans and coordinate responses to natural and manmade disasters
  • Advocate for improvements and efficiencies in the criminal justice, mental health and public safety systems

Today the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office is a leader in providing professional and quality law enforcement, corrections and emergency management services.