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By What Authority is The Sheriff the (CLEO) Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the County? Part 1 of 3

By • April 17, 2024

The Sheriff is the only elected law enforcement officer in the country. This fact alone is the very essence of the word, unique. It is the most authentic law enforcement office in the land by virtue of the fact the Sheriff is elected. This is a significant point. Why? Because he serves from a direct mandate of “We the People.” Remember, it is We the People that ordain and establish the US Constitution (the highest law in the land) and it is We the People who elect our Sheriffs.

Sheriffs are executive officers and as such are “Constitutional,” meaning they are required by Article VI of the US Constitution to be bound by oath or affirmation to support the US Constitution (the highest law in the land). The Sheriff does not answer to a mayor, judge, county commissioners, governor, police chief, prosecutor, or the president. His oath is to the US Constitution and State Constitution, not a person. His boss is “We the People”— the very source of governmental power and existence.

Not only is it self-evident that the Sheriff is the Chief Law Enforcement Officer in the respective counties by virtue that he is elected and has county-wide jurisdiction, but in a SCOTUS case, Mack-Printz V US (1997) the majority opinion reaffirmed the obvious, stating the Sheriff is the “CLEO” Chief Law Enforcement Officer and is bound by oath to the Constitution.

Many Sheriff duties are historical, ancient, and common from county to county across the land, but are also spelled out in Idaho state code including the primacy of the office.

Idaho Code
“The policy of Idaho is that the primary duty of enforcing all penal provisions and statutes of the state is vested with the sheriff of each county as provided in section 31-2227, Idaho Code.”

Words mean things: “Primary” is an adjective meaning first or highest in rank or importance; chief; principal.

Another authoritative source of Sheriff primacy is:

31-2227. ENFORCEMENT OF PENAL LAWS — PRIMARY RESPONSIBILITY. (1) Irrespective of police powers vested by statute in state, county, and municipal officers, and except where otherwise provided in Idaho Code, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the state of Idaho that the primary duty of enforcing all the penal provisions of any and all statutes of this state, in any court, is vested in the sheriff and prosecuting attorney of each of the several counties. When, in the judgment of such county officers, they need assistance from municipal peace officers within the county, they are authorized and directed to call for such assistance and local officers shall render assistance.

Furthermore, Article 18, Section 6 of The Idaho State Constitution requires that all of Idaho’s forty-four sub-divisions (counties) have an elected sheriff. City police are a luxury. They are security for municipal corporations.

Sheriffs must exist and are primary everywhere except federal lands under “exclusive jurisdiction” (I.e. military bases, Federal Courthouse and Post Offices. The Sheriff is primary on BLM lands and Forest lands which are designated as only “proprietorial jurisdiction” federal land, not exclusive. The other exception to sheriff primacy is the Idaho State Capitol and Idaho Supreme Court which by Idaho state code are the primary jurisdiction of the State Police).

Authority is meaningless without the integrity and courage to uphold the oath. Upholding the oath is the most fundamental duty of a constitutional officer (as defined in Article VI of the US Constitution). The Sheriff is an executive officer and therefore required to take the oath of office. Sheriffs who do not put their oath in action — by interposing– render the constitution toothless and government un-restrained. The Sheriff has the duty to uphold the US and State Constitutions. The Bill of Rights are “The Untouchables.” They were stepped on during COVID precisely because Sheriffs did not universally honor their oath and exercise their primacy in Idaho’s respective counties when it mattered most.

Unlike any other law enforcement executives, Idaho code authorizes only the Sheriff to command as many inhabitants of the county as he deems necessary to carry out his duties. The chief duty is to honor his oath and We the People can be called on to assist in that solemn role.

This Constitution Corner column was submitted by Doug Traubel. This column does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of those at the Idaho Dispatch.

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Tags: Chief Law Enforcement Officer, CLEO, Idaho Code, Idaho Constitution, Mack-Printz V US, Oath, oath in action, SCOTUS, Sheriff

11 thoughts on “By What Authority is The Sheriff the (CLEO) Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the County? Part 1 of 3

  1. If you want to find the ONE law enforcement officer you can count on, vote in the May 21 primary to elect Doug Traubel for Ada County Sheriff. Please check out Doug Traubel’s website (, and do whatever you can to support him. He lives and breathes his oath.

    P.S. Please ignore the inevitable lies and smears that you may hear from the opposition.

    1. Doug hs no opposition in the primary and neither does Matt Clifford (the Republican). No need to vote for either one of these in May, just sayin.

  2. Great article ! I agree our sheriffs are independent, But tell me somebody, what happens when the sheriff works for the county commissioners, county prosecutors and local government. The same people who got the sheriff elected. CSPOA has brought light to this problem and its a BIG problem. So even with the state laws and statues on how our sheriffs are suppose to enforce those laws and statues the powers to be tells the sheriff what to do. So who side is the sheriff on ?

  3. The Main and Larger problem with our 44 Idaho Elected Sheriffs Is the lack of accountability and Statue enforcement By county government of Independent elected Sherriffs. By Law , they are the Top Law Enforcement Officer for the Couny and Do pick and choose the laws and the Constitution Articles they want to uphold without any scrutiny from any one. If a County Sheriff is not upholding his oath of office or upholding laws the only solution is to Vote them out. This sounds Simple but some Sheriff’s retaliate against candidates whom run against them which Guarantees their Political Job Security and makes our Democratic form of government dysfunctional.

  4. I gave my county sheriff permission to hunt on my property. at the time I thought what could be wrong with that.
    He immediately began to invite his hunting buddies to hunt on my place and trespassed others who I had given permission to hunt.
    At that point I uninvited him and told him to stay off of my place. He responded with,” as the elected sheriff I can go anywhere in Nez Perce county unrestricted. “He continued to trespass and I told him I put up game cameras and am willing to publish the pictures.
    Mysteriously my cameras all disappeared at four hundred a pop.

    1. The arrogance of power. Disgraceful conduct. I’m embarrassed just reading your account. You were generous to allow him access. I’m sorry you experienced that. It goes to show that the public trust is fragile and precious. Every contact can either build or damage the trust. That sheriff’s criminal conduct makes it hard on the rest of us and sadly you will carry that memory forever.

      1. Yes, you are correct, but the result for me was positive in the long run. I became very active in local politics and helped defeat the bum in his next campaign.

        1. Perfect! 2018’s HB 468 didn’t exempt the Sheriff from being charged with trespass or from being required to have written permission to do something like hunt on your property. Like Doug said, pure arrogance, nothing less, but not uncommon these days, either.

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