Meet the Sheriffs Who Have Sworn Not to Uphold Federal Laws

Would it worry you if sex offenders were “deputized” by a local sheriff into a posse to guard your child’s school? What if they had thousands of volunteer commandos, with little or no training, ready to make war on the federal government? Welcome to the age of “warrior cops,” which barely resemble the officers of the former “Andy Griffith” era.

Today, local sheriffs have helicopters, car-mounted night vision recording devices, armored personnel carriers with rotating turrets, facial recognition units, and even drones. Approximately $7 billion in grants from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and surplus military equipment from 1033 Unit of the Department of Defense are contributing the militarization of local police nationwide.

However, despite the largess of DHS, 474 sheriffs have sworn to defend against federal overreach by joining the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA). Sheriffs that have been only too happy to accept hundreds of thousands in grants are now biting the hand that fed them. Headed by sheriff Richard Mack, the purpose of CSPOA is to be “an army to set our nation free,” from tyranny. A few sheriffs have had the humility to admit that their oath of office does not include interpreting the constitution. In response, CSPOA has labeled them “red-coats.”

As an example, Arizona received around $7.3 million in DHS grants in 2012, millions of which have not been accounted for, as well as roughly 800 active terrorism liaison officers, despite having no demonstrable terrorist threat. In comparison, the state boasts about 40 organizations and 23.6 million in state funding for victims of domestic violence, a real, documented terror. Yet, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, a recipient of a large portion of Arizona’s DHS funds, under the direction of celebrity Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a member of CSPOA, made the claim that, “I’m going to arm all my deputies with automatic rifles ... and we’re going ... to fight back.”

This is an administration known for "concentration camps" for "illegals," the recent severe beating of an attorney at the scene of an accident, as well as the use SWAT team accompanied by Steven Seagull in fancy cruisers bought with DHS funds to raid a chicken farmer wrongly suspected of cockfighting. While thus engaged in fighting crime, however, “America’s toughest Sheriff” neglected to investigate over 400 reported sex crimes during three years, although he accepted $2.7 million to take over the jurisdiction where they took place. Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s focus on the Second Amendment right to bear arms underlines the dereliction of his oath of office regarding other, equally important constitutional rights.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is not alone in the abuse of constitutional rights by sheriffs that are members of CSPOA and their deputies; across the country, cases abound of excessive force, child porn, sexual battery, embezzlement, racially motivated assault, and extensive police misconduct. Among the first twenty CSPOA members on the list of sheriffs who oppose gun control legislation, roughly half have been investigated or charged with misconduct in the last year or two. Although CSPOA members pose themselves as heroes against tyranny, from the perspective of many in their counties, they could be viewed as unaccountable tyrants. 

Although lightning has claimed four times more lives in the last five years than terrorism, our nation has been deluded into thinking it an overwhelming threat. Since $1.4 billion in DHS funds has failed to uncover even one credible terrorist threat, local and regional law enforcement agencies have shifted focus from counter-terrorism to “all hazards, all crimes.”

Yet, until we as a society admit that terrorism and drug-trafficking are not more important than other crimes and probably less deserving of a "war" than sexual violence, we will continue to waste resources and still fail to protect ourselves and our loved ones. While it may be granted that the federal government is becoming ever more tyrannical, it would seem that county sheriffs are hardly the most qualified or trustworthy to protect our rights.

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Tim Tolka

Tim grew up on the road with his family, who were evangelicals with wanderlust. He wandered most of his 20's in +30 countries on four continents, based in Boulder where he got a BA in Humanities, then NYC and SF where he worked in real estate, event planning, and education, until coming to DC for his Master's in International Affairs. He speaks European languages and is interested in literature, feminism, and political economy. He still follows in the evangelical line, despite being secular.

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