California County Sheriff Departments
Each of the 58 counties in the state of California has a sheriff who is elected to a four-year term. When the sheriff is unable to complete the four-year term, the county board may choose to appoint someone for the remainder of the term or hold a special election. Duties include serving warrants, supervising deputies and other staff, operating the jail (if the county has one), maintaining security of the local courts, collecting fees for judgements, and maintaining records, warrants, and criminal history information. In 41 counties, the Sheriff also serves as the Coroner, charged with investigating the cause of deaths, conducting autopsies, and maintaining records. In a few rural counties, the Sheriff’s job includes the position of Public Administrator.
Each sheriff’s department has a website; links to these can be found through the California State Sheriffs’ Association. Most websites have a prisoner lookup tool or list of current inmates, along with a photo and other information such as arrest date, charges, and expected release date. All but one county in the state has at least one jail or detention facility; Alpine County contracts with Calaveras and El Dorado counties to house prisoners. Some of the more densely populated counties have numerous facilities. Orange County has five, Kern County and San Francisco County each have six, San Diego County has seven, and Los Angeles County operates eight detention facilities. Two counties, Madera and Napa, each have a Department of Corrections that is separate from the Sheriff’s Department; in all other counties, the jails are run by a division of the Sheriff’s Department.
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. Some cities contract with the sheriff’s department for services. In Orange County, for example, the sheriff’s department serves thirteen contract cities, in addition to unincorporated portions of the county. In Los Angeles County, 42 of the 88 municipalities contract with the sheriff’s department for services.
The sheriff’s department often has divisions for providing services to meet specific needs in a county. In Orange County, there are divisions for the Orange County Transportation Authority, John Wayne Airport, and Harbor Patrol. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the largest in the United States, provides law enforcement services for local parks and marinas, nine community college campuses, and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Metrolink. While some counties have a separate Marshal’s Department to provide bailiffs and other court services, in many counties these services are under the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s department. Some departments, such as San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which serves the largest county in the nation, provide aviation services for general law enforcement and emergencies. The Aviation Force in San Bernardino County is the third largest non-military air force in the world. It helps with fire suppression, medical transport, and search and rescue efforts. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department provides law enforcement for the twelve federally recognized Indian reservations within the county.