An infuriating story of waste, pettiness and abuse of power
Outgoing sheriffs in multiple counties proved beyond doubt that sheriffs in Alabama are given too much authority by tradition and the state constitution and many squander it on personal gain, petty power plays and blatant disregard for taxpayers.

He found an outgoing sheriff who had holes drilled in the phones – an act for which you or I would be charged with destroying public property or tampering with evidence. He found one who spent sheriff’s money on stockpiles of rice, which went down the sink, or on comically large pallets of toilet paper –interfering with the new sheriff’s ability to enforce the law.

Sheriffs wasted money and wired it to themselves. Or grossly overspent from discretionary funds on everyday items that could have been bought for a fraction of the price. One purposely jumbled all the keys to the sheriff’s department and left them in a pile so the new, duly elected head of law enforcement would have a hard time doing his job.

It’s not hazing. It’s abuse of power. And the questions about the money and loss of evidence could have far larger, more sinister implications.

It is too much. It is too far. The behavior of sheriffs in Alabama – longtime Pickens County Sheriff David Abston was charged last week with defrauding a church food bank – diminishes the office and casts an ugly shadow on law enforcement.

It is an affront to the people of Alabama and the law. And somebody needs to act.

The new sheriffs, for one, should investigate who drilled those phones, or dumped the rice, or committed the other acts, and arrest them if they discover crimes.

They are the sheriffs, after all.

More importantly, though, the Alabama Legislature and the people of Alabama need to reassess the archaic institution of the sheriff itself, which – because of ancient English custom and the Alabama Constitution – is given disproportionate authority.

The Alabama Sheriffs Association says – as if it’s a good thing – that “the office of sheriff has changed only slightly from its medieval origins. The sheriff still retains ancient duties to preserve the peace and execute the law through the exercise of power as an officer of the sovereign government.”

And then there’s this, which the sheriff’s association posts on its website:

“Like their Middle Ages counterpart, a sheriff today continues to hold the respect and admiration of the citizens they protect.”

Not like this.

It’s not the Middle Ages, and Alabama is not Nottingham. It is past time for the state of Alabama to curtail the power of its sheriffs and turn them over to professional law enforcement officials.

John Archibald, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is a columnist for Reckon by His column appears in The Birmingham News, the Huntsville Times, the Mobile Register and Write him at

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