Wikipedia:Town sheriff

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Sheriffs are Wikipedia editors who intervene in contentious, polemicized articles or topic areas where the behavior of editors has exasperated the community at large. Sheriffs are appointed by the community with a mandate to establish order and maintain peace on designated pages. Part of the overall dispute resolution process, they are granted privileges and authorities beyond the normal authority of administrators to ensure that they have authority on the page, but are restricted to actions which control, prevent, or obviate interference with consensus discussion.

A Sheriff has two goals:

  • To ensure that content discussions can progress meaningfully, peacefully and quickly, either to a consensus conclusion or to a recognition that mediation or arbitration is required.
  • To guide editors away from bad discussion practices towards a better, more civil communication style.

The Sheriff forestalls or removes distractions, rhetoric, political manipulations, needless complications, tendentious actions, or anything which can embroil the talk page in confusion or heated emotions, and makes sure that content is not dictated by anything outside of reasoned, civil discussion. The Sheriff insists that the discussion remain simple, clear, and impersonal, so that the content dispute can come to the fore and the consensus process can work to best effect.

Sheriffs have significant powers on the articles they are appointed to:

  • Redaction of 'fighting words' or incivilities that might prompt further disruption.
  • Refactoring, restructuring or refocusing discussion so they reflect the content issues better.
  • Warning or guiding editors away from or towards certain behaviors.
  • Banning intransigent editors for short (24 hour) periods.
  • Blocking editors who violate their bans.

However, because Sheriffs have such significant powers, they also have significant restrictions which prevent them from influencing or enforcing any opinion on the content of the article. The sheriff is there to guard against disruption of consensus discussion, but is strictly prohibited from dictating the substance of the discussion itself or the content of the article.

The basic theory[edit]

A Wikipedia Sheriff's goal is to change the talk page dynamic, so that problematic behavior nets few rewards—either in terms of article content or visceral satisfaction—while civil discussion is free to progress. The role is modeled on the idea of an Old West sheriff, who makes the streets safe so decent folk can get on with their business.

Wikipedia is explicitly designed on a consensus model, where article content is determined by reasonable discussions between conscientious editors. Unfortunately, consensus discussions are easily disrupted or subverted, and even conscientious editors sometimes lack the perspective they need to discuss issues reasonably. It may not be possible to trace disruption back to its source: it only takes one editor to start disrupting a discussion, but once it has begun it often takes on a life of its own, with many involved editors unintentionally adding to and perpetuating the disruption as they edit. Common forms of disruption include (but are not limited to):

  • Insults, accusations, tirades, personal attacks, or other actions which incite emotional reactions and draw editors away from reasoned discussion.
  • Extended tangents, circular reasoning, thread hijacking, and other distractions which interfere with the flow of conversation and make talk-page progress difficult.
  • Blanket reverts, tendentious edits, premature closure of discussions, or other actions that inhibit or preclude normal discussion.

For consensus discussions to work these disruptions need to be minimized or removed, keeping editors away from interpersonal emotional reactions and focused on content matters. Many editors, however, find it very difficult to resist these disruptions. It is natural to take offense at an insult or accusation, and natural to respond with an insult or accusation in turn, and few people have the intrinsic presence of mind to realize that these 'natural' urges perpetuate and magnify the disruption. Sometimes editors will intentionally manipulate an article or talk page in order to create a disruption for some further goal, more often editors will merely be blinded by a combination of attitudes and emotions that continually lead them away from content and back to disruptive threads.

Practical details[edit]

Volunteering[edit]

Any editor who is not already an administrator may volunteer to be a Sheriff by adding their dated signature in the Requested Instatement section below, or by creating a "Request for Sheriffcy" page. Volunteering requires approval, and has conditions: sheriff candidates must be in good standing (no outstanding topic bans or other remedies), and have a sufficient number of edits to demonstrate they are dedicated to the project (at least 5,000 non-automated edits or experience of helpful behavior in three separate disputes). The request shall stand for seven days. During that period editors may present evidence of past behavior by the candidate which would make them ineligible to be appointed. At the conclusion of the period a Bureaucrat shall determine whether there is sufficient evidence to reject the application. Otherwise, the volunteer is added to the Sheriffs usergroup, and receives the ability to use Breach of Peace bans and blocks and page protection as described below.

Appointment to a page[edit]

Sheriffs can only be appointed to a page at the request of the community. Various procedures for doing so may occur, but in general the procedure should be on the level of an extended discussion at the administrator's noticeboard or a policy-level, project-wide request for comment. There should be sufficient consensus to be certain that the community as a whole is fed up with the behavior of editors at the page or topic in question and that other avenues of resolving the conflict are ineffective. Once a consensus to install a sheriff is reached, a volunteer request is made on this page. Sheriffs should not seek appointments on topics where they have strong opinions, a history of conflicts, or any other factor which might call their neutrality into question. As soon as a Sheriff requests appointment, a second discussion shall start to gain consensus for the approval of that appointment. If no consensus is reached within two days the application shall be closed and the position will be open for the next volunteer Sheriff. This shall continue until there is a consensus for the appointment.

Once appointed, a Sheriff shall place notices on the article talk page and at the Administrator's noticeboard that they are supervising that page. Sheriffs should give reasonable time and opportunity for editors on that page to acclimate themselves to the presence of a sheriff before imposing remedies. Appointments are made for three month periods: after three months, the community should determine whether the article has stabilized sufficiently so that it no longer needs a sheriff, or whether the appointment should be extended for another three months.

Removal[edit]

Sheriffs may be removed in the same way they are appointed, by a consensus of the community. This will generally occur under three conditions:

  • The community determines that the page no longer needs a Sheriff to oversee behavior, generally at the end of a three month appointment.
  • The community determines that a new sheriff should be appointed because of a request from the current Sheriff, because the Sheriff is no longer active, or because editors on the page have a good reason to request one, such as that the Sheriff has admitted or demonstrated a strong opinion on the subject matter.
  • The community determines that the sheriff has violated the rules or restrictions laid out on this page.

It should be expected that editors will complain about the actions of sheriffs, because sheriffs are there to curtail problematic behavior. All such complaints should be attended to, but in general sheriffs should not be removed unless they clearly strayed outside the specific authorities listed on this page or applied them unequally to different editors or groups of editors (for example, ignoring infractions by one side). Editors with complaints should always be reminded that the Sheriff is working in accordance with community will, not as an independent actor, and so long as the community will is being enforced correctly and evenhandedly the Sheriff's actions are allowable. The burden of proof is on the complainant to make a strong and clear case.

A request to replace a Sheriff shall be made at AN. A consensus of uninvolved editors is required to remove a Sheriff. Requests that do not include explicit violations of this policy may be closed immediately.

Sanctions and dismissal[edit]

Sheriffs who violate the rules listed here should always be subject to sanctions; this is important to maintain the legitimacy of sheriffs across the project. Depending on the severity of the violation, sanctions may range from a formal statement at the administrator's noticeboard acknowledging the error made and their intent to remedy it in the future, to a public apology for malfeasance at the article page, to loss of Sheriff status.

Authorities and restrictions[edit]

Sheriffs are granted a number of authorities on pages beyond those normally held by administrators, but at the same time are more restricted in the actions they can take. These authorities and restrictions are designed to give the Sheriff greater latitude for dealing with editorial problems authoritatively, while increasing the legitimacy of Sheriff actions by restricting them to those explicitly sanctioned by the community. These authorities and restrictions are detailed below.

Authorities[edit]

Sheriffs have the following authorities on pages where they are installed:

Authoritative control
Sheriffs are monitored by the community -generally through the administrator's noticeboard— but have the final say on pages where they are installed; administrators or other Sheriffs who wish to act authoritatively on the talk page must clear it with the Sheriff first, and the installed Sheriff can revert the actions of anyone without being guilty of wheel warring or edit warring. This improves accountability and reduces system-gaming, because it leaves all administrative decisions on the page as the sole responsibility of the sheriff.
Redaction and refactoring
Sheriffs have unlimited rights to redact and refactor talk page posts to remove disruptive and distracting material or restructure discussions. Typical uses might be: redacting uncivil or inflammatory comments inline; refactoring comments to different sections to keep debates concise and focused; redacting duplicate material or off-topic commentary to cut down on page noise. Any redactions or refactoring should be done in a way which preserves as much as possible the flow and positive intent of the discussion (e.g. if a comment contains both a valid discussion point and an inflammatory statement, the latter should be redacted without changing the meaning of the former).
Breach of Peace blocks, and page bans
Sheriffs have the right to impose 24 hour Breach of Peace page bans at will, and to enforce those bans with blocks if they are violated — essentially equivalent to tossing someone into the pokey until they sober up. This is intended to serve the dual purpose of de-escalating page conflicts rapidly and convincing editors that they will have more success using reasoned arguments than inflamed rhetoric. Sheriffs should not generally shorten such bans or blocks, and can never lengthen them. They are purely functional 'stop the nonsense' actions. Blocks imposed by sheriffs are not to be used or considered during other current or future administrative actions, and a user blocked or page banned by a sheriff is still regarded as a user in good standing. A Sheriff must make it clear why such a block has been meted out, and require better behavior when the blocked editor returns to the page. Sheriffs may also impose full page protection on an article or talk page for up to 24 hours. Except in particularly egregious, emergency, or defiant cases, a Sheriff should employ user blocks only after page bans have been unsuccessfully tried by the Sheriff. A Sheriff may not extend the duration of a ban, block, or protection by immediately re-imposing it upon the expiration of a prior instance, but may repeat a ban, block, or protection as needed after evaluating editors' conduct after the expiration of a prior ban, block, or protection following a 24-hour period.
Proactive reversion
Sheriffs can, at need, revert a page to a version that existed prior to the current dispute, or a version in which a disputed passage is removed entirely by the sheriff. This should only be done in extreme cases where editors continue to war over a page despite warnings and Breach of Peace blocks.

Restrictions[edit]

Sheriffs are held to a higher standard than other editors, and must restrict themselves to actions that preserve, defend, or uphold consensus discussions without interfering with the discussions themselves. The following rules should be obeyed stringently, and sanctions may be applied to editors who violate them:

Strict non-involvement
Sheriffs give up the right to have any opinion about the content matter of the page, and restrict themselves to enforcing behavioral issues. They can render opinions on content policy (in neutral terms) but do not enforce content policy. They cannot show preference for one content position over another. They cannot back up one side in preference to another. Any sheriff who does so loses legitimacy and community support, and should be sanctioned and replaced.
No content editing
A sheriff may protect articles for 24-hour periods, may add dispute tags to indicate content is being debated, and may or may not revert articles to versions whose content was arrived at by proper consensus. This is in order that POV pushing and disruptive behavior is not rewarded. However, Sheriffs may not make any other edits to the articles except for removing clear vandalism and BLP violations, because such edits might require judgment calls which would affect the appearance of impartiality.
Clear justification
Each time a Sheriff redacts, reverts, changes, or otherwise acts as a Sheriff on a page, the act should be clearly justified in terms of the narrow scope of preserving the discussion. Sheriffs should keep a log of any actions whose value might not be immediately obvious, so that any complaints about the act can be explained quickly and clearly to administrators at the Administrator's Noticeboard.
Preservation of material
Under no circumstances may a Sheriff remove material that adds information to a discussion, or make changes which change the meaning of discussions. Sheriffs may make useful suggestions, but should do so neutrally as an outsider and not allow themselves to become involved as participants in discussion on the page. The sheriff must be seen as enforcing policy, not his own perspective.
Limitations on powers
Sheriffs can only impose Breach of Peace blocks. The sheriff should refer problems that extend outside of the scope of Sheriff's powers (narrowly defined) to administrators at the Administrator's Noticeboard. Sheriffs should consider themselves involved parties in pages they work on, and should take strong precautions against appearing as though they are misusing their status.
Off-duty status
Sheriffs have no 'off-duty' status; they only have Sheriff powers on pages to which they've been formally appointed. Sheriffs who seek to use their authority in any other context may lose their sheriff status. This is primarily intended to keep off-duty sheriffs from trying to intimidate other editors with whom they are involved, even for well-intentioned reasons. If a sheriff is involved on a page that requires the attention of a sheriff, s/he should request help from someone else.
Extension of reach
Sheriffs may not extend their authority to other pages unless that request is presented at a noticeboard where it can be discussed and approved. This is a matter of legitimacy: despite the fact that sheriffs are constrained by the restrictions here, it is best not to give even an appearance of favoritism.

Cosmetic stuff[edit]

  • Small box (but visible enough) at top of talk page to show folks it's being watched, and warn of consequences for inappropriate behaviour.
  • Sheriff Watchdog-specific warnings (templates?) ; various levels, same kind of system as vandal warnings.