- A Perspective
- History of the Sheriff in the United States
- History of the Harford County Sheriff's Office
- Law Enforcement
- The Harford County Jail
- Court Services
- Protecting the Courts
- Public Safety for the Future
The Harford County Sheriff's Office is a Maryland Law Enforcement agency, providing professional police, courts and correctional services to the citizens of Harford County. Having as its motto, Courage, Honor, and Integrity in the Pursuit of Justice, the Sheriff's Office has become an integral working part of the community, providing for the safety, health and well being of county residents.
History of the Sheriff in the United States
The office of sheriff, one of the oldest offices known to the common law system of jurisprudence, can trace its roots to the Saxons of England in 992 A.D. Research even suggests the presence of sheriffs during the time of Nebuchadnezzar, the Chaldean king of Babylon. The name sheriff is derived from the old English title Shire, meaning County, and reeve meaning the keeper. Over time, these two words combined to form the word sheriff. The office of sheriff came to America in the mid-17th century and most research agrees that America's first sheriff was Lord William Baldridge, appointed in 1634 in St. Mary's County, Maryland. Each of Maryland's twenty-three counties, and Baltimore City, has sheriff's offices. Whatever his or her duties might be, the county sheriff is, above all, the chief constitutional law enforcement officer of the county.
History of the Harford County Sheriff's Office
As a result of the act of the Maryland General Assembly in 1773, Baltimore County was divided into two counties. A new county, Harford, was created from the northeastern quadrant of the former Baltimore County. County Commissioners were appointed and authorized, and required to purchase four acres of land near Bushtown at the head of the Bush River. The land purchase was for the purpose of building a courthouse and prison in their new county. The actual formation of government for Harford County occurred on March 22, 1774, when Henry Harford sent his commission to the new County Seat at Harford Town. The Right Honorable Henry Harford, Lord Proprietor of the Province, commissioned Thomas Miller the first sheriff. The first election for sheriff was in 1777, when John Taylor won over his opponent, George Bradford. Although duties have varied through the years, the Sheriff's Office's primary responsibilities have become maintaining law and order, investigating crime, apprehending criminals, custody of prisoners, serving the courts and posting notices of elections.
The Sheriff's Office initially began as a one-man operation. The sheriff was the king's man within the shire, a small community of about one hundred families. His duty was to maintain order while enforcing the king's will along with that of the court. Although the first sheriff was appointed in 1774, subsequent sheriffs were elected. Sheriffs served two-year terms until 1914 when they began serving four-year terms. The duties of sheriff throughout the United States vary both internally and externally, and from agency to agency. Depending on the region, some sheriff's offices provide only court and/or correctional services, while others provide law enforcement. The citizens of Harford County benefit from having a multi-service agency that provides all three. Although patrol deputies are the most visible personnel of the Sheriff's Office, court services deputies and correctional officers from the Detention Center are critical components of this full-service agency.
Law enforcement responsibilities within the Sheriff's Office mirror that of most other police agencies throughout the nation. In Harford County, the sheriff's office has retained the responsibility of being the primary law enforcement agency in the county. The sheriff and his deputies are charged with enforcing the laws of Maryland and are authorized to make arrests and detain suspected offenders. The Harford County Sheriff's Office provides uniformed patrol; and accident, criminal and specialized investigation. The Sheriff's Office responds to over 115,000 calls per year.
The increasing complexities of modern law enforcement have created an obvious need for specialized training and competence in narrowly defined areas of enforcement. Some of those specialty areas include: K-9, SCUBA, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), RADAR, Advanced Accident Investigation, Child Advocacy and Victim Services, Drug Interdiction, Domestic Violence and Community Policing. Additionally, the Harford County Sheriff's Office has a warrant-fugitive unit responsible for investigating and apprehending suspects wanted on warrants issued by the District and Circuit Courts. The Paternity Support Enforcement Unit, a smaller component of the warrant-fugitive unit, actively works to arrest individuals wanted on non-support warrants.
Detention centers (for people accused of crimes) were first used in Biblical times. Even so, it would not be recognized until centuries later that prison terms were considered acceptable punishment for criminal acts. Experimentation with different types of jails began in England in the Middle Ages. In addition to the county jail, workhouses were established and detained minor offenders; such as, vagrants, petty thieves, prostitutes and disorderly persons. In the original 13 colonies, settlers modeled their system of criminal justice to that of England. Sheriffs were not only responsible for collecting taxes and court administration, but also for preventing crime and apprehending criminals. Overseeing the jails became a natural progression of the sheriff's duties - one that is still maintained today.
In 1790, the Quakers convinced the Pennsylvania Legislature to set aside a new wing of the jail for a penitentiary, where convicted felons would do penitence and work in solitude. The jail also had a large room to confine people awaiting trial, and another for misdemeanants and debtors. An English sheriff, John Howard, influenced the architecture of the jail, with his proposal for single cells incorporated into a cellblock. Thus, in 1790 we had the birth of the American penitentiary - a major change in penal practice for the Western World.
The Harford County Jail
The predecessor to the Harford County Detention Center was the jail. The original jail was constructed in 1791, portions of which are still standing. This jail consisted of three floors, each with six double - bunked cells per floor, one cell for females, and one for juveniles. Meals were prepared on site by the Sheriff's wife and served on a small metal tray. The old jail served as a pre-sentence holding facility only. During the mid-1960's, the agency had three jailers, who also served as police radio operators. Religious and family visits were the only services offered at the time.
In 1972, construction of the Harford County Detention Center began on a piece of property just outside Bel Air. The new facility, designed to hold 96 inmates, opened on March 31, 1973, with areas for males, females and juvenile offenders. The new jail was designed to house prisoners awaiting trial and those sentenced to incarceration for 18 months or less. In 1979, the Detention Center discontinued housing juveniles unless their status was waived to that of an adult.
During the 1980's, the Sheriff's Office law enforcement and correctional training facilities occupied the lower level of the building and provided in depth training, practical exercises, and certifications for agency members. In 1985, major renovations converted storage and training space into four housing units for work release and weekender inmates. Four medical isolation cells, a classification office, a shift supervisor's office and a multi-purpose room were also added. Renovations increased maximum bed space to 272 inmates. A transportation unit was formed in 1988, and modular buildings were added in 1989 to provide space for administrative, support and transportation staff. In 1990, the indoor firing range was razed and a 24-bed direct supervision unit for work release inmates was constructed.
On May 23, 1997, the facility once again grew to meet the needs of the County with the opening of a $10 million, 63,000 square foot, 172-bed expansion. This facility has the capability of housing 468 inmates; and as the needs of the community dictate, a second story can be added in the future and to increase the capacity to 636 inmate beds. Other features include a 24-bed pre-classification intake unit; the Inter-Agency Processing Center; offices for the Harford County District Court Commissioners; a new modernized kitchen; and ancillary space for administrative and support staff. This new facility is a reflection of the new generation of jails. Direct supervision management, considered an innovative and progressive inmate management concept, is utilized in the new facility.
The Harford County Detention Center, one of three facilities in Maryland to achieve the American Correctional Association Accreditation, is governed by written directives as promulgated by the Sheriff. The facility and its staff are required to meet and maintain 100% compliance of the Maryland Commission on Correctional Standards (MCCS) — a feat they achieve consistently. It is one of a few correctional facilities statewide that has earned six consecutive Recognition of Achievement Awards presented by the MCCS — meeting 100% of the standards 100% of the time. While the primary purpose of the Detention Center is to provide care, custody and safety of the prisoners and staff, it also offers a variety of programs to inmate. These programs provide inmates an opportunity to maintain and improve their physical, emotional, and psychological wellbeing upon re-integration into the Harford County community.
The Circuit Court of Maryland was founded in Common Law, and Maryland's Constitution requires the Sheriff to serve at the pleasure of the Courts. Therefore, the Harford County Sheriff's Office is responsible for the security of the court and the execution of all court ordered documents.
Members of the Sheriff's Office, assigned to Court Services, are responsible for the execution of court ordered documents, issued yearly by both the Circuit and District Courts of Maryland. These civil and criminal documents include: arrest warrants, summons, subpoenas, body attachments, support enforcement warrants, ex-parte orders, Writs of Execution, Emergency Petitions, possession and replevin orders. These documents make up but a few of the 50,000 papers served annually on Harford County residents. Sheriff's deputies also serve, where applicable, out of state process and accompanying affidavits. The Court Services Division has a 91% success rate of service of all court documents given to the Sheriff's Office.
Protecting the Courts
The Sheriff's Office provides protection to five Circuit Court judges, their staff, and approximately 100 employees who occupy the Circuit Court building. Walk- through metal detectors, county government badge identifications, portable hand-held scanners and deputies trained to detect potential threats to life and property, ensure a safe and secure atmosphere for persons conducting business at the courthouse. Furthermore, the deputies stand by during criminal and civil proceedings, providing security and supervision of prisoners during the hearing.
In operation for over twenty years, the Sheriff's Office Training Academy, located on the campus of the Harford Community College, is a fully staffed, fully accredited police/correctional training facility. Police and correctional officer in- service, and recruit level training is provided yearly to several hundred officers. The Sheriff's Office has self-imposed a minimum of forty hours of in-service per year for all certified personnel. Even though several courses such as firearms and emergency care are required, the remaining hours can be made up of courses selected by the officer. The curriculum is college oriented, with each officer being given a course catalog and the opportunity to select from a variety of training classes. Instructors from inside and outside the agency serve as adjunct faculty for such courses as defensive tactics, hostage negotiations, cultural diversity, child abuse and sex crimes, state and constitutional law, criminal investigations and police patrol functions, to name a few.
Public Safety for the Future
As society changes law enforcement and corrections must be prepared technologically to face those changes. Failure to do so puts society at serious risk from those who seek to undermine our system of justice. The Harford County Sheriff's Office has, and will continue, to take an aggressive and proactive approach to policing and public safety, while staying abreast of new and evolving public safety practices and technologies so that the citizens continue to be afforded the latest in public safety innovations. Members of the Sheriffs Office are recognized as a diverse and talented group of men and women, possessing strong, independent decision making skills, and having the desire to use those skills to further the goals of the Sheriff's Office. Deputies are strongly encouraged to think creatively and use those skills to enhance agency operations.
The Sheriff's Office is viewed as a law enforcement/corrections operation that understands its mission. Providing a professional and technologically innovative system of management, fiscal responsibility, open lines of communication, the ability to meet with the community and recognize potential threats to their safety and well being, are strong indications of a well-managed law enforcement agency. Understanding the need for a greater police presence in the community has resulted in establishing a new police precinct in the southern region of the county. The capacity of the Detention Center has been enlarged to meet projected needs, and the Sheriff has diversified the agency by placing uniformed officers in satellite locations throughout the County. All of these factors combined provide a sense of security and well being to the 200,000 plus residents of Harford County.
Law enforcement and corrections are a necessary part of society and must change with society in order to keep our communities safe and protect the rights of all citizens. To that end, the Harford County Sheriff's Office has met each and every challenge encountered during its long and proud history. Recognizing our proud heritage, we will continue to serve citizens of Harford County by keeping our mission foremost in our actions, thoughts and deeds.