Daily Archives: December 5, 2022

This Sheriff Business is Even Weirder Than I Thought

Recently, I totted up all the recent scandals involving Vermont’s county sheriffs and asked whether we could do without that archaic institution.

Well, now I’ve dipped a toe into sheriff’s department finances, and this whole thing is a lot weirder than I realized. Not necessarily corrupt, but curious, inconsistent, poorly conceived, and sometimes mismanaged.

This is going to take a while, so I’ll summarize the key points up top.

Sheriffs are effectively proprietors of sizable small businesses. They have to be entrepreneurial to keep the lights on because state funding accounts for only a fraction of their expenses. The sheriffs make up the rest by selling their department’s services to anyone who needs policing or security. Sheriffs often handle policing for small communities — for a price. They also work for road contractors, public events, school districts, and other entities both public and private. (The Rutland County Sheriff collected close to $60,000 from the Diamond Run Mall.)

By law, sheriffs are entitled to a 5% cut of all their service contracts. They don’t all take it. Some plow the money back into the department to cover expenses. In many counties, there’s no way of telling how much of a cut the sheriff is collecting. But that 5% can hit the high five figures or even cross into six figures. It’s a lot of money.

The need to be entrepreneurial, and the prospect of collecting a share of every contract, create a strong incentive to expand offerings and find new “markets” for armed officers of the law. This is what leads to scams like the speed trap in Bridgewater, which benefits the town and the Windsor County Sheriff at the expense of inattentive drivers. Honestly, I’d be surprised if there weren’t more such things going on.

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