The office of sheriff is one of the oldest offices known to the common law system. The office dates back to at least the reign of Alfred the Great in England, and some scholars even argue that the office of sheriff was first created during the Roman occupation of England.
The word sheriff evolved from the Saxon word sayre signifying shire, meaning geographic units or county. The word reve was used to describe a representative that acted on behalf of the King of England in each shire or county.
The shire-reve or Kings' representative in each county became the sheriff as the English language changed over the years. The shire-reve or sheriff was the chief law enforcement officer of each county in the year 1000 A.D.
The Arkansas Constitution states that each county shall elect one sheriff. The duties of the office of county sheriff in Arkansas are divided into three major areas. The sheriff is the chief enforcement officer of the courts, conservator of the peace in the county and has custody of the county jail, according to Fulton County Sheriff Walter Dillinger.
As chief enforcement officer of the circuit and chancery courts, the sheriff is responsible for the execution of summonses, enforcement of judgments, orders, injunctions, garnishments, attachments and the making of arrest on warrants issued by the courts.
The sheriff also opens and attends each term of circuit and chancery court and notifies residents selected to jury duty, assists in handling witnesses and prisoners during a given court term.
A second major area of duties surrounds the responsibility of the sheriff in law enforcement. The responsibility in this area is very broad and includes the preservation of the public peace; the protection of life and property; the prevention, detection and investigation of criminal activity.
To support the sheriff in his law enforcement duties, there is a full a staff of deputies including Chief Investigator Tom Hanselman, Johnny Byler, David Henry, Rhonda Long, Terry Walker and Lance Grey, who is currently in training.
The sheriff and his deputies are also responsible for the apprehension and confinement of offenders and the recovery of property; the control of crowds at public events; the control of vehicular traffic and the investigation of traffic accidents; and the rendering of services and the protection of property during civil emergencies or natural disasters.
The responsibility for the custody of the county jail in each county is given to the county sheriff.
The sheriff has custody of accused felons and some misdemeanors apprehended in the county and is charged with feeding and keeping these accused persons. A log of all prisoners kept in the county jail and those transferred is maintained by the sheriff, as well as a bail bond book.
In Arkansas, a candidate for sheriff must be a qualified elector and resident of the county in which they seek office. The term of office for a sheriff is two years and is elected by the voters of the county. There is no limit to the number of times a person may be elected sheriff.
Dillinger said there are a lot of responsibilities involved in the office of sheriff, but there are some duties not on the books.
Dillinger said he recently had a woman request a protection order on her husband.
"You could see they really cared for each other. When I see something like that I try and talk to them about it. They really didn't want to go through with it, and they wanted to know if I could help. I told them I couldn't, but I knew who could," he said.
"I called my son, Mike Dillinger, who is the pastor of the Assembly of God Church in Pomona. They got set with Genesis Counseling out of West Plains and went. Now they are doing great. We are just thrilled to death about it," Dillinger said.
In the case that the sheriff is unable to complete the term of office, the county quorum court has the authority to appoint a person to fill the vacancy. In the case of a vacancy, any person who is appointed must meet all the qualifications for election to that office.
In addition, any member of the quorum court or relative within the fourth degree, such as a fourth cousin, is ineligible to serve. The appointed sheriff serves out the remainder of the term or until their successor is elected and qualified.
Since Dillinger has been in office, he says he has seen three individuals get saved while in the Fulton County Jail. He also transported them to be baptized. "Its not all about arresting folks. Of course, you have got to at times, but we really try to help people. That's what it is all about," Dillinger said.