Louisiana Sheriff Elections

Topics: Police, Election, Louisiana Pages: 26 (6190 words) Published: May 16, 2014

Louisiana Sheriff Elections
Norman Clark, M.P.A.
PhD Student, Political Science Department
Louisiana State University
307 Stubbs Hall,
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803-5433

Paper was presented at the 93rd Annual Meeting of the Southwester Social Science Association, March 27- 30, 2013, New Orleans, Louisiana. This paper is a section of a dissertation in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctorate of Philosophy in the Department of Political Science.

Louisiana Sheriff Elections
Norman Clark
Louisiana State University
This study examines Louisiana sheriff elections, specifically the impact incumbency, candidate quality, and crime rates have on those elections. Six election cycles from 1987 through 2007 were used to provide a total of 320 parish elections involving 1076 candidates. The purpose of this study is to determine some of the factors that Louisiana voters use to decide who to elect for sheriff. Do voters prefer candidates with law enforcement experience or an experienced politician when electing the chief law enforcement official in a county? Although some candidates will have both political and law enforcement experience, it is presumed that law enforcement experience will have the stronger impact of the two. A linear regression model is used to analyze data gathered from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, official election results, the Louisiana Sheriffs Association, local news media, and various Louisiana sheriff’s offices. The output suggests that crime rates are not as important as believed, but law enforcement experience is far more important than political experience. Also, incumbency is as influential in parish sheriff elections as it is in the state and federal legislative elections.


“The state is considered the sole source of the ‘right’ to use violence.” (Weber 1972, 1)

County sheriffs in the United States are elected and empowered by their constituents to make arrests, conduct searches and seizures, and use deadly force in performance of their duties if public safety is at risk. Yet for all of this authority, sheriff elections have been largely ignored by political science. This study seeks to lay the foundation for further study into a position that is an amalgam of law enforcement officer and political entity.

As mentioned previously, a sheriff is not just an elected cop. Sheriffs are granted a variety of implied, reserved, and expressed powers; some of which are very similar to those granted to other political entities. Also like other political entities, federalism causes differences in powers and duties from one state to another such as in Louisiana where the sheriff runs the parish prison, performs law enforcement duties throughout the parish, and is the ex-officio tax collector and Pennsylvania where sheriffs only run the county jail and act as officers of the court.

This study focuses on sheriff elections in the state of Louisiana. Louisiana has a unique cultural history that includes being owned by the Spanish and French prior to being purchased by the United States. Because of its solid Roman Catholic beginnings, counties in Louisiana are referred to as parishes like a church parish.

Numerous studies have found that policy responsiveness is a major factor in a legislative incumbent getting reelected (e.g., Abramowitz 1988; Canes-Wrone, Brady, and Cogan 2002; Hogan 2008; Wright and Berkman 1986). The question arises, how to judge if an incumbent sheriff is performing in a satisfactory manner? With a regular elected official, a voter could look at road construction, how our children are performing in schools, or if our taxes are going up or down. The primary policy goal of any law enforcement official is to lower crime rates. With this in mind, this study proposes using crime rate change between the year prior to and the year of the election to determine a sheriff’s...
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