John Oliver explains sheriffs, urges viewers to research if theirs is 'good, bad, or a total weirdo'

John Oliver explains sheriffs
(Image credit: Screenshot/YouTube/Last Week Tonight)

"When you hear the word 'sheriff,' most of us have two immediate associations: One, a Western lawman who handled cattle rustlin' and other livestock-related crimes, and two, Joe Arpaio, the infamously anti-immigrant sheriff," John Oliver said on Last Week Tonight. There are more than 3,000 sheriffs around the U.S., "and generally speaking, they run law enforcement at a county level," he added. "Cities or towns might have their own police departments as well, but in many areas, sheriffs are the only law enforcement around."

Sheriffs "oversee a lot of officers — around 25 percent of local law enforcement officers," Oliver said. "That's one-in-four cops. And depending on where you live, your sheriff might be good, bad, or a total weirdo." He had examples of all three types, and the last two categories were frequently intertwined.

Sheriffs are generally elected, "and once in office, sheriffs hold much more power than you may realize," Oliver said, "so with over 1,000 sheriff elections this year, possibly where you live, we thought tonight might be a good time to take a look at this job." In many states, sheriffs are constitutionally empowered to form posses and deputize anyone, but they exercise a lot of power by setting law enforcement priorities in a county — for good or bad — and operate the local jail with a lot of leeway. "Removing a sheriff between elections is almost impossible," he said, "so sheriffs operate with a lot of impunity," and "sheriff elections, like most down ballot elections, do not receive nearly enough attention, and often, they aren't even competitive." Oliver encouraged viewers to at least Google who their sheriff is and get a sense of whether he or she fits in the good, bad, or total weirdo category — and this being John Oliver, there is ample NSFW language and some extended jokes about bestiality. Watch below. Peter Weber

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.