Originally under Spanish rule from 1620-1821 and Mexican rule from 1821-1836 Texas was divided into municipalities, a unit of local government. When the Republic of Texas gained its independence in 1836, there were 23 municipalities, which became the original Texas counties. Many of these would later be divided creating new counties across the state.
History of Texas Sheriff Departments
In each of the 254 counties in Texas, the sheriff is an elected official who serves a four-year term, with no limit on the number of terms allowed. By law, the sheriff is responsible for operation of the county jail(s), investigation of crimes occurring within the county, enforcement of judgements made by courts, and communication with other law enforcement organizations. In addition, the sheriff is responsible for ensuring the security of county and district courts, serving warrants and civil papers, and setting bail bond policy unless there is a bail bond board in the county. Although the sheriff has jurisdiction over the entire county, most sheriff’s departments tend to operate largely in the rural areas of a county, leaving law enforcement within city limits in the hands of the local police. By Texas law, however, a sheriff or deputy has the authority to make an arrest anywhere within the state, with the exception of certain traffic offenses.
Duties and responsibilities of the sheriff can also vary by the size and population of the county. For example, in counties with a population of less than 10,000, the sheriff is constitutionally charged with serving as the tax assessor-collector as well, unless voters decide to keep the job separate. In counties with a population greater than 110,000, there must be a bail bond board, and the sheriff is required to serve as a member of that board.
The population of the county also dictates the size of the sheriff’s department staff and budget. The largest department in Texas (and third largest department in the United States) is that of the Harris County Sheriff. Harris County includes the city of Houston, and the department has about 3,500 employees to help cover the responsibilities of the sheriff in the 1,118 square miles of unincorporated area in the county.
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