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A sheriff is a government official, with varying duties, existing in some countries with historical ties to England, where the office originated. There is an analogous although independently developed office in Iceland that is commonly translated to English as sheriff, and this is discussed below.
Historically, a sheriff was a legal official with responsibility for a shire, the term being a contraction of "shire reeve" (Old English scīrgerefa).
- In British English, the political or legal office of a sheriff, term of office of a sheriff, or jurisdiction of a sheriff, is called a shrievalty in England and Wales, and a sheriffdom in Scotland.
- In modern times, the specific combination of legal, political and ceremonial duties of a sheriff varies greatly from country to country.
- In England, Northern Ireland, or Wales, a sheriff (or high sheriff) is a ceremonial county or city official.
- In Scotland, sheriffs are judges.
- In the Republic of Ireland, in some counties and in the cities of Dublin and Cork, sheriffs are legal officials similar to bailiffs.
- In the United States, a sheriff is a sworn law enforcement officer, whose duties vary across states and counties. A sheriff is generally an elected county official, with duties that typically include policing unincorporated areas, maintaining county jails, providing security to courts in the county, and (in some states) serving warrants and court papers. In addition to these policing and correction services, a sheriff is often responsible for enforcing civil law within the jurisdiction.
- In Canada, sheriffs exist in most provinces. The provincial sheriff services generally manage and transport court prisoners, serve court orders, and in some provinces sheriffs provide security for the court system, protect public officials, support investigations by local police services and in Alberta, sheriffs carry out traffic enforcement.
- In Australia and South Africa sheriffs are legal officials similar to bailiffs. In these countries there is no link maintained between counties and sheriffs.
- In India, a sheriff is a largely ceremonial office in some major cities.
The office of sheriff as county official in colonial North America is recorded from the 1660s. In the modern United States, the scope of a sheriff varies across states and counties (which in Louisiana are called "parishes" and in Alaska "boroughs"). The sheriff is most often an elected county official who serves as the chief civil-law enforcement officer of their jurisdiction. The sheriff enforces court orders and mandates and may perform duties such as evictions, seizing property and assets pursuant to court orders, and serving warrants and legal papers. In some counties where urban areas have their own police departments, a sheriff may be restricted to civil procedure enforcement duties, while in other counties, the sheriff may serve as the principal police force and have jurisdiction over all of the county's municipalities, regardless if they have their own city or town/township police department. A sheriff often administers the county jails and is responsible for court security functions within their jurisdiction.
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