Dane County was officially established in 1839 when the Dane County Board of Commissioners was first formed. On May 15, 1839, the commissioners elected Nathaniel T. Parkinson as the first Sheriff of Dane County, Wisconsin. Parkinson maintained the first County Jail, a two-story log cabin on Butler Street in the city of Madison. The first floor of the jail was a bakery operated by Parkinson. In order to get to the jail, the prisoners had to climb a ladder leading to a hole in the ceiling of the bakery.
On June 4, 1839, the County Board of Commissioners authorized the building of a new county jail in Madison. Commissioner Simon Mills was granted permission to make a loan of $1,000 to build a one-story building 24' x 18' to be divided into two equal rooms, with walls eight inches thick. Bids were received for the building and the winner of the bid was none other than Nathaniel T. Parkinson, submitting the low bid of $1,348.
By 1930, the Dane County Sheriff Department had developed into a ten-man force under the direction of Sheriff Lawrence D. Larson and his Undersheriff, Joe Shaughnessy. Leon Geiger was the only full-time county employee.
In May of 1934, the County Board voted to equip squad cars with radio receivers. WIBA radio station was given the contract to provide radio service to the squads from 7:30 a.m. to midnight every day. The squads could receive calls, but they had to find a telephone to answer the dispatcher.
In May of 1957, the Sheriff Department moved to new offices located in the new City-County Building, occupying small offices on the ground floor. The county jail was located on the sixth floor. Upstairs, the city jail was located on the seventh floor, operated by the Madison Police Department who also occupied office space on the ground floor. However, since the kitchen was located on the 6th floor in the county jail, the Sheriff Department undertook the feeding of all prisoners in both the city and county jails.
Under the direction of Sheriff Franz G. Haas, Technical Departmental Divisions began in 1957 with the formation of ranking positions. Leon Geiger had held the position of Assistant Chief Deputy since 1953, and after promotional exams were given, he became the department’s first captain, heading Civil Process.
In May of 1981, Sheriff Ferris promoted employees Yvonne Seeley and Diane Kohn to Administrative Services Supervisor positions, the first non-sworn persons to become managers within the Sheriff Department.
The Dane County Traffic Department (which was formed in 1927) was merged with the Sheriff Department in 1982. This merger brought department personnel to 231, of which 190 were sworn deputy sheriffs.
Between 1983 and 1984 a major expansion to the jail was completed when four floors were added to the west half of the City-County Building. The top two floors, six and seven, added jail space. This new space was badly needed as the jail had become overcrowded, with many inmates sleeping on the floors and in the hall space of the jail.
In June of 1993, Sheriff Raemisch changed the name of the Dane County Sheriff Department to the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, reflecting the statutory "Office of the Sheriff" and acknowledging that the Sheriff’s Office is an independent county agency.
The Sheriff’s Office became active in Community Oriented Policing in October of 1997. Two Community Deputies were initially assigned. By 2001 there were five as Community Deputies and as of 2009, there were nine deputies assigned as Community Deputies of Dane County.
In November of 2006, Detective David Mahoney of the Dane County Sheriff’s Office was elected the 52nd Sheriff. A 26-year veteran of the organization, Sheriff Mahoney assumed the office in the first open election for the office in over twenty years.
On May 10, 2021, Kalvin Barrett was appointed as the 53rd Sheriff of the Dane County Sheriff's Office. Sheriff Barrett previously worked as a deputy sheriff for the Dane County Sheriff's Office, an officer for Sun Prairie Police Department as well as the Faculty Director of Diversity & Inclusion and Instructor for the Criminal Justice Studies Program and Law Enforcement Academy for Madison College. Sheriff Barrett made history, becoming the first African American Sheriff for the Dane County Sheriff's Office.
As of 2021, the Dane County Sheriff’s Office consisted of 456 sworn and 121 non-sworn personnel working together to serve and protect the citizens of Dane County by providing them a secure and safe environment. The Dane County Sheriff’s Office continues to maintain the highest level of excellence in its ability to achieve its mission.