Being Sheriff is a big job. A Virginia Sheriff is required to provide court security, serve process, operate the jail, and keep records. Some Sheriff's offices, like ours, also engage in Patrol activities, post a School Resource Officer at every public school in Culpeper County, sponsor and volunteer at community events, conduct free Youth Sports Camps, provide community education opportunities such as the concealed carry classes, conduct House of Worship Watch training for faith community security, operate Youth Law Enforcement Academies and Citizen's Academies, provide funeral escorts, make free Kids ID cards, help provide holiday gifts for underserved children and seniors, and carry out countless other activities. Clearly, in this day and age it is a job too big for any one person to carry out by himself or herself.
Fortunately, a Sheriff can appoint deputies to help. Practically speaking, appointing a deputy very closely resembles a hiring process. There are applications completed, background checks undertaken, interviews conducted, and other common hiring steps. But for a deputy, there is at least one important difference – the job never lasts longer than the remainder of the Sheriff’s term. Under the law, it can’t.
Virginia Code Section 15.2-1603 limits a deputy’s appointment to the Sheriff’s “continuance in office.” That means that at the end of a Sheriff’s term, EVERY deputy loses his or her job. There is 100% turnover in a Sheriff’s office every time an election is held, even if the incumbent Sheriff is re-elected.
People who do not have much experience in a Sheriff’s office, or who are unfamiliar with how it operates, may not be aware of this fact. Of course, every deputy whose career spans an election knows this. And most experienced law-enforcement officers know it. And of course, the Virginia Code on this subject is freely available online for anyone who wants to know how these things work.
Nonetheless, it is an interesting fact that most people unfamiliar with how a Sheriff’s Office operates may not be aware of. For most deputies, being reappointed is not cause for concern. However, some deputies have a poor track record or a history of opposing a Sheriff’s policies. These sub-par deputies may not be reappointed, and nothing requires the Sheriff to do so.
Heading into a new term is a good time for a Sheriff to re-evaluate what kind of team he or she wants. Under-achievers may be weeded out, and new people better aligned with the electorate’s priorities may be brought on board. In another post, we will discuss the fact that Virginia law, including a recent federal case that supported the Loudoun County Sheriff, has long been clear that Virginia Sheriffs have an obligation to their voters to appoint deputies who are committed to enacting the Sheriff’s policies.