‘You’re the undersheriff now’
While the county’s human resources department has a policy listing qualifications, as an elected official the sheriff gets to decide who gets to be undersheriff.
According to Undersheriff Paul Howell, an elected sheriff has the ability to appoint anyone he or she wants for undersheriff.
“Technically, a sheriff could simply point to any random person walking down the street and say ‘you’re the undersheriff now,’ and that would be completely within the sheriff’s right,” said Howell.
However, no one in their right mind would ever do such a thing, he said, or risk alienating the rest of the sheriff department’s staff.
Howell himself wasn’t appointed, but promoted. Because there were several qualified candidates, Sheriff Ron Pierini didn’t think it would be fair to arbitrarily appoint one of them. So each candidate completed a rigorous interview process, and Howell was selected to be promoted to the position.
The human resources policy lists captain or equivalent experience, but Howell was a lieutenant when he took the job.
This isn’t always the case. A sheriff can appoint, can interview, can have a panel interview, or can choose to simply not select any undersheriff.
The only qualifications a person must possess to become undersheriff is to have the same qualifications to become a peace officer. For example, a person with a felony record could not be appointed to the position of undersheriff, whether or not the sheriff wanted them.
If a person who is not within the sheriff’s department is appointed to undersheriff, they must attend the POST academy before they can take the position.
“The only time you might see a sheriff appoint someone outside of the department is if there was a huge deal of corruption, and they were coming in to clean house,” said Howell.