Civics 101: The duties of Wilson County sheriff

Sinclaire Sparkman • Jun 29, 2018 at 9:05 PM

Editor’s Note: The following story is part of a series of stories designed to educate voters on what each elected office does – and in some cases, doesn’t do – for the people of Wilson County.

As chief law enforcement officer in the county, it would be easy to think Wilson County’s sheriff focuses most of his time reigning in criminal activity, and while that is part of the job, the sheriff actually does a lot more than just law enforcement. 

The sheriff is the head of three grand areas, with a prime directive written out in state statute that the one who holds the office is the foremost keeper of the peace in the county. The office of sheriff serves as administrator of the county jail, superintendent of court security and the workhouse, serves all civil and arrest warrants and oversees law enforcement operations at the county level. Each of the areas comes with a variety of job duties and demands, but perhaps the most important thing the sheriff does is communicate with citizens. 

According to former Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe, who is also executive director of the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association and a Wilson County commissioner unopposed in the Aug. 2 election, the sheriff actually spends a lot of time answering calls from concerned citizens. 

“Taking the calls is almost a full-time job. Sometimes the best thing a sheriff can do is to be a good listener,” Ashe said. “The sheriff of a county has to develop a relationship with its citizens in confidentiality. People will share with you stuff they would only share with their preacher or doctor. The sheriff will find himself in the middle of those conversations every day, on the phone or wherever he goes.”

Deputies help the sheriff with a lot of the legwork, like serving warrants that deal with anything from a neighbor suing another neighbor to a divorce action to a criminal’s arrest. Thousands of civil and arrest warrants come through the sheriff’s office each month, and each must be delivered in a timely manner. 

The sheriff’s office is the largest law enforcement agency with the second largest county budget. It has 240 sworn officers and patrols about 583 square miles. At least one sheriff’s deputy serves as a school resource officer in each school in Wilson County Schools and Lebanon Special School District. The sheriff also manages work schedules and payroll for deputies. 

The sheriff does, at times, go out on patrol and can help to investigate crimes. 

The sheriff has jurisdiction over the entire county, but crimes within city limits fall to the local police department. When a person is arrested anywhere in Wilson County, they get booked in at the Wilson County Jail, and the sheriff oversees jail operations. 

As far as preventative measures, the sheriff can initiate such measures, like assigning an officer to each local school or adding a patrol to a certain area.  

“The sheriff spends a lot of times reacting to things, but when you find an opportunity for a preventative measure, it’s good to take it,” Ashe said. 

On Aug. 2, Wilson County voters will elect a sheriff for the next four years. Incumbent Wilson County Sheriff Robert Bryan since 2012 will face former Wilson County sheriff’s corporal and Mt. Juliet City Commissioner Ray Justice. Early voting begins July 13 and ends July 28.

The last day to register to vote in the Aug. 2 election is Tuesday. Residents can register online at wilsonvotes.com or call the election office at 615-444-0216.

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