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History of the Sussex County Sheriff

Release Date: August 20, 2012
The Sussex County Sheriff's Office was established in 1753, a full twenty three years before Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, making it the first and oldest established law enforcement agency in Sussex County.

History of the Sussex County Sheriff

On January 1, 2011, Michael F. Strada was sworn in as the 73rd Sheriff of Sussex County, in a line that began when New Jersey was still an English colony. Sheriff Michael F. Strada is committed to serving the people of Sussex County with professionalism and integrity.

The movie version of a Sheriff, like Gary Cooper in "High Noon" is the mythical image of the lone lawman, in a white Stetson hat, walking alone down a dusty western street to vanquish the bad guy, and is etched into the American psyche.

In reality, the Office of the Sheriff existed long before those unruly days of the Wild West. The title of Sheriff originated in 10th Century England, during the reign of Alfred the Great (871-901). Small towns and villages throughout the English countryside were compiled together into what we would now recognize as counties. These counties were called Shires, typically led by a King-appointed magistrate known as a Reeve. People accused of crimes were brought before the Shire-Reeve. Over time, the title Shire-Reeve evolved into Sheriff. Centuries later, English settlers arriving in the colonies brought with them the traditions of English government and law, including the Office of the Sheriff.

The Sussex County Sheriff's Office was established in 1753, a full twenty three years before Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, making it the first and oldest established law enforcement agency in Sussex County. In that same year, King George III approved an ordinance to construct a jail and courthouse in Sussex County. The first court proceedings were held in the log residence of tavern keeper Jonathan Pettit in what is now Johnsonburg, Warren County. A log jail was also constructed in Johnsonburg and was utilized until around 1761 when all Sussex County government and court services were relocated to present day Newton where it has remained ever since.

In contrast, the New Jersey State Police was established in 1921, one hundred and sixty-eight years after the Sussex County Sheriff's Office.

The Sheriff's Office derives its power to preserve the peace from common law. The current Office was established by the New Jersey State Constitution in 1947, Article 7, Section 2, and expanded powers and duties were established by state statute. Over the past 259 years, as more people settled in the area, the Sheriff's Office has adapted and expanded to serve the residents of Sussex County.

Currently, the Sussex County Sheriff's Office is comprised of two bureaus, the Bureau of Law Enforcement and The Bureau of Corrections.

The Bureau of Law Enforcement represents the enforcement arm of the Sussex County Sheriff's Office and its 36 sworn Sheriff's Officers, along with full and part time civilian personnel are tasked with carrying out the statutory responsibilities of the sheriff as mandated by the state constitution. Some units within the Bureau include the Canine Unit (K-9), Civil Process Unit, Courts and Transportation Unit, Internal Affairs, Traffic, Warrants, Search & Rescue, and the Tactical Response Unit (TRU). The Bureau also includes the office of the Sussex County Fire Marshall. Additionally, a Communications Center is maintained and staffed by the Bureau, providing 24-hour radio communication for the Sheriff's Office, and handling calls after-hours for a number of Sussex County agencies including the road department, health department, prosecutor's office, HAZ-MAT and medical examiner's office.

The Bureau of Corrections is tasked with the care, custody, and control of approximately 190 inmates incarcerated at the Keogh-Dwyer Correctional Facility. Currently, 28 sworn Corrections Officers maintain direct supervision and manage an innovative, progressive and efficient system of accountability. The sworn officers work together with civilian employees, including nurses, cooks, and other contracted health services to ensure the facility is run professionally within the guidelines mandated by state and federal statute. The Bureau of Corrections also oversees the Sheriff's Labor Assistance Program (SLAP) and Sheriff's Work Assistance Program (SWAP).

The current Sussex County Jail, officially named the Keogh-Dwyer Correctional Facility, was opened January 25, 1979, and was built to hold 88 inmates. At the time, the Warden of the facility answered directly to the Sussex County Freeholders. Responsibility for the facility became the Sussex County Sheriff's by ordinance in March, 1989. Besides county inmates, the facility also holds state inmates and immigration detainees by contract.

The evolution of the Sussex County Sheriff's Office from one man appointed by a King to a modern law enforcement agency led by an elected official has been a slow gradual process that continues 259 years after it was first established.