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UVA Law Student Calls for Reformation of County Sheriff's Offices

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James Tomberlin, a UVA law student James Tomberlin, a UVA law student
Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

A law student at the University of Virginia says county sheriff's offices across the United States need to go.

His argument stems from his research that sheriffs’ deputies are more likely to be corrupt than police officers.

UVA student James Tomberlin says sheriffs are often protected from the checks and balances processes that police officers go through, which he says often leave the office unaccountable.

Tomberlin says sheriffs are easily protected during county elections because it’s rare for a deputy to challenge his or her superior. Plus, voter turnout is often slim for those elections.

In his published article, he says one solution would be to combine both departments. The other solution would be to add two specific rules that police departments also have to follow.

"We should be able to hire and fire the head of the agency which, for the county, would be the sheriff,” says Tomberlin. “Number two is that police departments are required to propose budgets."

In places like Albemarle County, the sheriff's office is in charge of protecting the courts and bringing inmates across the state. The police department, on the other hand, does daily work including arrests and charges.

Albemarle County's sheriff, Chip Harding, says he understands the argument but believes the article does not apply to his office.

"I feel more responsible directly to the public as an elected sheriff than I did when I was within the police department," says Harding.

Harding says getting rid of the office or combining it with the police department could cause problems.

"A police chief serves at the pleasure of the city manager or, in the case of the county, the county administrator, and he takes a lot of direction from council or his board of supervisors," says Harding. "So you can, to me, threaten a police chief a whole lot quicker."

That said, Harding believes Tomberlin's article has fair points and should facilitate a larger discussion.

"Some places, the culture is not good and it needs to change," says Harding.

Harding says that even if people wanted the sheriff's office removed or merged with the police department, it would take a while and would have to go through the general assembly since it's a constitutional office.