A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE JEFFERSON COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE
With the appointment of a doctor, Abel Sherman, as Sheriff of Jefferson County, N.Y., the county’s main law enforcement agency was born on April 3rd, 1805. During the past 200 years, 55 men have guided the department in enforcement in the law and protection of the citizenry.
Whether it is local crimes, labor strife, natural disaster, or in the face of local events linked to national or international issues, such as the “Patriot War” of 1838, or Prohibition (1919 to 1933), county sheriffs have been at the forefront.
The county’s first jail, constructed in the ground floor of a two-story court house, was built for $5,100 on Coffeen Street in 1807-1808, during the administrations of Sheriff Sherman and his appointed successor, Perley Keyes. The building was destroyed by fire on February 9, 1821, while Jason Fairbanks was Sheriff. A new jail was built the same year, and in 1822, Mr. Fairbanks became the first man to be elected to his office.
The passing of more than two decades tested the adequacy of the succeeding jail, prompting erection of an addition in 1848 during the administration of Sheriff Walter Collins. The facility remained in use until 1909, when, during the term of Sheriff Ezra D. Bellinger, a three-story structure replaced it on Coffeen Street.
The sheriffs’ wages were derived from the fees their office collected until 1914, when Sheriff Morris S. Gragg left office. His successor, Charles C. Hosmer, was the first to be salaried. The Office of the Sheriff was for only a single term until a change in law enabled Brayton E. Peck in 1939 to be reelected and to eventually extend to 19 years as the county’s top law enforcement officer. No sheriff has served longer in Jefferson County.
Sheriff Donald F. Newberry presided as his office and the jail were given new quarters, the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building, February 3rd, 1992.
Today, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office under the leadership of Sheriff Colleen M. O'Neill, continues to “Serve and Protect” the people of Jefferson County. The Office of the Sheriff employs a total of 150 employees: 117 sworn officers and 34 civilian staffs. The fleet comprises of 38 vehicles: a patrol vessel used to patrol the waters of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, 4 snowmobiles, and 4 all-terrain vehicles. Sheriff John P. Burns, through state grants, reinstated the K-9 Unit on June 6th, 2004, with the purchase of K-9 “Bullet”. For 200 years, the purpose of the county jail has been to provide adequate care, custody, treatment, and supervision for all persons committed to the facility. The total capacity of the county jail is presently 196; 32 females and 164 males.