This is for a story that I've been kicking around for years at this point and I always get hung up on how realistic one of my story arcs is.

I have an elected constable and town selectman that is participating in illegal activities in a small town. The town is currently served primarily by a county sheriff's office, but this constable wants to create a town police force with several of his loyal men as officers to provide a safety net for his criminal operations. Assuming he has the townspeople on his side, how would he establish this police force in such a way that it is officially recognized by the state (current manuscript is set in rural Arkansas)?

So far, I've been hingeing the creation of the department on approval from the town's primary governing body (a board of selectmen) and then securing funding. The more I think of it though, the more I think that there has to be some sort of accreditation requirement or process somewhere that I haven't heard of.

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    $\begingroup$ What time period are you looking at, this matters because U.S. law and policy evolves very quickly over it's eye-blink history compared to European powers, etc. $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2021 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ The first thing to ask yourself is what does "an officially recognized police department" actually mean in the USA... (Not much. In this respect, the USA is profoundly different from European countries. If the local district court which has jurisdiction over the town accepts the local constabulary as a police department, it is a police department.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 22, 2021 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks guys, those are good questions. The time period is the present, and by "officially recognized" I mean recognized by the state specifically and fullfilling any requirements needed to receive state resources and cooperation from other law enforcement agencies. $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2021 at 20:31
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    $\begingroup$ Basically, any county (or a city which is not part of county) can and must elect their own sheriff, who heads the local police department. There is nothing more than that, particulary no country or state level process. So that your intrepid constable must run for sheriff at the county level and be elected and that's it. (As far as I know, of course. I am not an American, just a foreigner acculturated to imperialistic American B-class movies. See for example Walking Tall.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 22, 2021 at 20:32
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Sheriff != Police The main difference is jurisdiction: Sheriff departments operate on the level of counties, while police departments belong to smaller jurisdictions (towns, municipalities, etc.). Sheriffs do not lead local police departments. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jul 23, 2021 at 3:38

3 Answers 3


The Town May Form Its Own Police Department

Under Arkansas state law a town has the authority to establish its own police department. Such a department is then subject to various Arkansas laws governing the conduct, privileges, and duties of municipal police officers, and possibly one or more statutes pertaining to State Police Officers

Finally, they will also be subject to any Federal law pertaining to state/municipal police officers - as far as the Fed is concerned, city cops are just extensions of the State government.

But It Doesn't Need To

Towns in Arkansas may appoint Marshalls who have all of the powers and jurisdiction of county Sheriffs, including the appointment of Deputies. This possibly also avoids the restrictions and requirements that otherwise apply to police officers, and is probably why this option exists; rural town budgets are legendary for their paucity.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm giving this one the official stamp of approval. After a night of ruminating, the appointment of marshalls option really fits and adds some interesting dimension to other parts of the story. Thanks man! $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2021 at 13:32

The process is rather routine, if non-trivial. They'll need to incorporate as a township, if not already incorporated. Population requirements (and others) vary state to state.

The establishment of a new police department also varies state to state, and you can read up on the various state laws governing them. Certain requirements have to be be met (mostly concerning how they are staffed). For instance, this is Ohio:

Title 7 (Municipal Corporations) §737.05

The police department of each city shall be composed of a chief of police and such other officers, patrolmen, and employees as the legislative authority thereof provides by ordinance.

The director of public safety of such city shall have the exclusive management and control of all other officers, surgeons, secretaries, clerks, and employees in the police department as provided by ordinances or resolution of such legislative authority. He may commission private policemen, who may not be in the classified list of the department, under such rules and regulations as the legislative authority prescribes.

Basically, the city government needs to pass ordinances, then hire a police chief who then has to hire out others to do the actual work. The police chief does not himself need to be a sworn law officer in some/most states (wouldn't have the power of arrest if he doesn't though).

Nothing in the statutes I'm looking at talks about having to register with the state government or anything like that either.

Such a town might find model laws/statutes with which to pass such ordinaces (basically, it's like a "fill in the blanks" bill example, so they don't have to write it from scratch).

Also of interest, in the United States, universities and transit companies (railroads, but also others) can establish their own police forces. The latter can do it according to federal law, the former having various differences state-to-state.

If you want this story in a particular location, consult the laws for that particular state. However, things tend to be similar enough that this might not be necessary


Replace the sheriff.


Whenever any prisoner is taken from jail, or from the custody of any sheriff or his deputy, and put to death, or suffers grievous bodily harm, owing to the neglect, connivance, cowardice, or other grave fault of the sheriff, such sheriff may be impeached under section 174 of this Constitution.

Having your bad guy incorporate his town for the purposes of creating a police force is not really the stuff of epic badness. I am kind of getting sleepy typing about it. But taking over the sheriff's office and using that office to provide cover is juicy badness. Having a prisoner taken from jail and coming to (scandalous!) harm and having the sheriff take the fall is more the thing a conniving bad guy would do.

If the sheriff is removed (or dies) the coroner becomes sheriff until governor appoints a new one. Coroner is in cahoots with your villain or at least is willing to take his money and follow instructions.

  • $\begingroup$ That's... Actually a really interesting idea. I'm going to think about that one and turn it around in my head for a few days for sure $\endgroup$ Jul 23, 2021 at 1:19

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