There’s a sheriff in Barnstable County by the name of James Cummings. He has been in office for a long time like most other sheriffs. These are good jobs in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that no one really knows anything about so they go on and on like the Energizer Bunny.
When I first started out as a lawyer they did what they were supposed to do. That was they took care of the persons who were confined to the House of Corrections and some served civil process. That was it. Nothing more. Nothing less. These were elected offices so as long as one got into office and no massive scandal resulted they had a life time tenure.
One of the nice things of the job was the ability to hire other people. The work was steady and the benefits were good. The sheriffs did their jobs and did them well.
Times changed and a new breed of sheriffs came to town. They sought to build upon what the others had put in place. I wasn’t privy to the changes but I figure it was like what happened in the DA’s offices. The DAs realized they could do more than just prosecute crimes; so they got into the victim witness business and set up specialized units to address domestic violence, sexual assault, white collar crime, repeat criminals and the like. The sheriffs too realized they could do more so they set up programs to concentrate on helping guys who went to jail readjust to life outside the bars.
Like universities and hospitals they felt a need to grow. They felt they were bettering society by doing these additional programs. For the most part is was good and the results shown by the reduction in crime rates seemed to justify these additions to their jobs.
I happen to know some guys who work in the sheriffs offices. They work hard showing up every day and doing the jobs they are supposed to be doing. They work hard ensuring the handling of prisoners is done right and coordinating the dealings between the prisoners and the court officials in a proper and expeditious manner. There are problems that arise every day. That you never hear much about the operations in the sheriffs offices is a tribute to the work that they do.
If that is all that was happening in the sheriff community I would not be writing. But there is another change that is quite ominous. It is that some sheriffs are looking upon themselves as some sort of police force which they are not supposed to be. We have town, city and state police along with harbor, transit, and environmental police. There is no lack of police forces available to protect and serve us. The ones that we have for the most part do an excellent job. The sheriffs by duplicating their work are doing far beyond what their job description demands and are engaged in wasteful spending.
A couple or so years back the sheriff of Barnstable County named Cummings made a statement that his office is in the business of supporting the police. I though the police had enough support as it is. What was particularly bothersome he said “There is more than enough crime to go around whatever the jurisdiction. Does Citizen X care who investigated the crime scene, who made the arrest, . . . ” He answered his question saying: “I think not.”
Clearly he is wrong. I don’t want people who are not skilled by many years of experience investigating crime scenes. I do not want the sheriffs out investigating crimes at all. Nor do I want them driving around in their cruisers looking to arrest people. We do have to draw lines; sheriffs should do what they do best which is to work with prisoners. They have no business being involved in outside law enforcement.
I have thought this for years but what propelled me to write this was a recent article about Sheriff Cummings now operating a boat that costs around five hundred thousand dollars which is being used, as best I can tell, to detect radiation in the waters off Cape Cod. We now have a sheriff’s navy. Is it to replace the Coast Guard? You have to read about it here. It really is obscene. It shows how fiscally irresponsible our country both national and at county level has become.
The sheriff says he’s here to help. He says they are a “force multiplier” augmenting what other agencies can do. Here’s what he is augmenting: “The Coast Guard has 21 vessels between 25 and 47 feet long at a half dozen stations around the Cape and Islands, . . . The state environmental police have 40 vessels that patrol 1,500 square miles of shoreline. At least one — the new 52-foot Thomas Paine — has a radiation detection unit. There are also two state police vessels and 50 local law enforcement and public safety vessels . . .”
What next? Sheriff Cummings office is at the Otis Air Force Base. A couple of helicopters would be nice to have on hand; how about a couple of F35 or three Osprey jets. Maybe he can augment NASA’s missile program. The list is endless when it comes to doing what other people already do. Too bad the sheriff doesn’t have to pay for it out of his own pocket.
I heard about it because there was a recent article here on this vessel that is listed as a “Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear and Explosives detection vessel, and it has the ability to discern extremely low levels of radiation that might be present in a “dirty bomb.” It was being used as a ferry to transport other sheriffs and their friends to a retirement party on Martha’s Vineyard.
When you think things are bad they only seem to get worse.