About the MSA

Learn more about the MSA including the mission, principles, and priorities.

Table of Contents


Founded in March of 1983, the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association (MSA) supports, promotes, and advocates for each of the 14 Sheriffs Offices in the Commonwealth. The MSA facilitates cooperative and collaborative relationships among the Sheriffs for the purpose of developing standardized training, reporting, providing governance over shared projects, discussing operational best practices, and providing research and data on matters of mutual interest and concern. The MSA improves public safety by promoting greater understanding of issues impacting the Massachusetts Sheriffs and by bringing together law enforcement and criminal justice professionals. 


The mission of the Massachusetts Sheriffs' Association is to protect and enhance the Office of Sheriff and the communities and constituencies in which they serve.  


  1. Integrity  
  2. Trust 
  3. Respect 
  4. Compassion 
  5. Commitment 
  6. Accountability


  1. To protect and enhance the Office of Sheriff. 
  2. To advance legislation for the betterment of the Commonwealth. 
  3. To foster continued education and training for the advancement of our sheriffs and their personnel. 
  4. To support fellow sheriffs in the performance and discharge of their statutory duties. 
  5. To expand evidence-based programming and services for justice involved individuals to improve opportunities for successful re-entry.  
  6. To enhance public awareness about the Office of Sheriff through effective communication, reporting, and transparency. 

Office of Sheriff

History of the Office of Sheriff

The Office of Sheriff is amongst the oldest known institutions of western governments. The story begins in medieval England, when Alfred the Great (A.D.871-901) organized his kingdom into "shires" or counties so as to more effectively govern the realm.

The King's next order of business was to appoint his royal representative within the Shire to administer and enforce the King's Laws, maintain order, head up the local military, collect taxes, settle disputes (quasi-judicially) amongst the subjects, and to arrest and imprison or otherwise punish those who broke the laws or violated the orders of the King. This person was known as the "Reeve."

To effectively carry out the duties imposed upon the Reeve (which frequently required more than one person to accomplish), he was vested by the King with the ability to enlist people to assist in the process. Thus was created the concept of "Posse Comitatus," or power of the county.

Thus, the Office of Sheriff is firmly rooted in English Common Law. The English word "Sheriff' is derived from the ancient Saxon words "shire- reeve." At common law and by tradition, the "Shire Reeve" or Sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer of the county.

It is interesting to note that in A.D. 1215, when a group of rebellious noblemen forced the despotic King John to sign the Magna Carta, 27 of the 63 clauses in the document dealt with the power and authority granted to the Sheriff.

When the first English settlements took root on these shores in 1620, the Pilgrims brought with them their desire for religious freedom and to exercise their rights as "Englishmen," as well as their legal traditions.

In the first days of the Plymouth colony, the position that most closely resembled that of sheriff was Captain Myles Standish. Captain Standish was not a pilgrim or "saint" as the separatists referred to themselves. He was an outsider or "stranger." He was a military man by profession, and his job was to be the protector and defender of the settlement, and to maintain the internal order of the colony. 


In the County of Plymouth, the office of Sheriff was formalized in 1692, when by royal appointment, John Bradford was installed as the first High Sheriff of Plymouth County.

After American independence in 1776, the Office of Sheriff continued to exist largely unchanged as an institution of our local government. The Office of Sheriff was formally recognized in Article IX (9) of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts of 1780 (the oldest written constitution still governing anywhere in the world), and later amended from an appointed position to an elected position by Article XIX (19) of the Articles of Amendment in 1855.

Thus was born the Office of the American Sheriff.

Date published: February 10, 2023
Last updated: February 10, 2023

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