The Man Who Wears the Star

Anyone who watches old westerns knows the power of the man who wears the star. With John Wayne, Gary Cooper, and Audie Murphy as models, who could overlook the contribution of sheriffs to the un-wilding of the West? The bad guys lost, the good guys won, and towns, children, and virtuous women were saved.

Some things don’t change much. We still owe gratitude to the man who wears the star. If we ever have to take a stand, we want him on our side, because he is the “boss” in Utah County.

Without a county sheriff, we would stand on wobbly ground, indeed. He is the protector of our liberties and property, and the executor of the law—the constitutions of the United States and the state of Utah, to which he pledged sacred allegiance. We elected him to defend us in the inevitable, unending, time-worn battle between liberty and tyranny.

Our Utah County sheriff for the last nearly 12 years is Jim Tracy, a 37 year veteran of Utah law enforcement. When he came to Utah County the population was 170,000; today it is 530,000. His staff of 519 includes 300 deputies, in addition to 250 volunteers. Sheriff Tracy runs a goodly ship. Inmates at the county jail are charged for their keep–$40/day, payable upon release. They can work their “rent” off on the 6 acre farm, the jail kitchen, jail industries, or county-wide labor projects if they choose, but idle inmates taking up free residence at taxpayer expense doesn’t play well in Utah County.

The sheriff’s duties focus on two objectives: to honor the law and protect county residents. He safeguards jurors, the accused, and prisoners, but is also our protection from abuse or overreach coming from any source, including corporations, bureaucracies, and government. He is part of the executive branch, but if warranted, he could refuse to abide by federal regulations. His stewardship is to the people who put him in office and the law he has sworn to uphold.

Judicial clarification for the power of county sheriffs came through the Brady Bill, passed in 1994 by Congress under President Bill Clinton. The bill required sheriffs to enforce federal gun control measures in their counties but had a fatal flaw: it was unconstitutional. No funding was provided, and non-compliance put the sheriff in legal hot water. Sheriff Richard Mack of Graham County, Arizona and sheriffs from six other states, funded by the National Rifle Association (NRA), took the case to the Supreme Court. The court ruling was voiced by Justice Scalia: ‘The Federal Government may not compel the states to enact or enforce a federal regulatory program”. Sheriff Mack, whose Utah visit this month incurred death threats from gay rights activists, now advocates the power and responsibility of county sheriffs nationwide to stand against federal overreach and any encroachment of citizen rights of their residents. This Supreme Court ruling stands today, as it should—constitutionality is not a changeable thing, based on fluctuating standards. What was constitutional then is inherently constitutional now.

The county sheriff protects the rights of each of us until laws are established, and then enforces laws once passed. (This assumes, of course, that those laws are constitutional.) He is the top authority in unincorporated areas and shares equal authority within city boundaries. He gets his marching orders from the state—the sovereign authority, as declared by the U.S. Constitution.

Sheriff Tracy is the county boss because we put him there—we assigned his authority when we voted him into office. He wants our feedback. Despite multiple responsibilities, including fire control, search and rescue, and the county jail, he is directly accessible to us. The man who wears the star is our “line in the sand” —our check and balance against encroachment on our inalienable, constitutional rights. He “has our back” and, in return, it is fair and appropriate that we have his.