What's a Sheriff?

The Office of the Sheriff has existed for over one thousand years and is the oldest law enforcement position in the United States. The word sheriff is derived from the shire-reeve, who was the most powerful English law authority figure, even before 1000 A.D. The shire-reeve, in contrast to a reeve (in charge of mere tenths), was responsible for both the order of the land within his banded group of a hundred families (shire) and the call of the "hue and cry." The hue and cry made every citizen in earshot of the sheriff’s call lawfully obligated to join in a posse comitatus, or group, which banded to catch criminals.

In the former brick courthouse in Somerville - precursor to the 1907 marble historic courthouse now on Main Street - the sheriff and his family had living quarters in the basement, and the jail occupied the other half of that space. The Rev. Dr. Thomas De Witt Talmage, for whom Talmage Avenue in Bound Brook is named, was the son of one of the sheriffs (David T. Talmage, 1841-43) whose family lived in the basement of the brick courthouse. A brick jail eventually was added behind that courthouse, and then was torn down when the now-razed 1906 jail was built.

The office of sheriff is not a department of County Government. It is an independent office through which the Sheriff exercises the powers of the public trust. No individual or small group hires or fires the Sheriff, or has the authority to interfere with the operations of the office. The sheriff is accountable directly to the Constitution, statutes, and the citizens of the county. The sheriff however should do his best to work with all entities because it is important in a democratic society that the sheriff be able to work with all segments of government to serve and protect all citizens of the County.

Responsibilities include maintaining a safe and secure environment at the Somerset County Courthouse, related government buildings and the Somerset County Jail, and providing a School Resource Officer for Somerset County schools. The Sheriff’s Department also is responsible for the Sheriff’s Bureau of Identification and Investigations, Sheriff’s Sales, Sheriff’s K-9 Unit, Gang & Terrorism Unit, safe transportation of county prisoners, execution of civil and criminal court warrants and processing of civil documents.