New sheriffs in town: 8 to begin in West Michigan Jan. 1

MICHIGAN — On Jan. 1, eight newly elected sheriffs will begin their new jobs in West Michigan as part of a record-setting class of new top cops elected across the state.

In November, voters in 33 of Michigan's 83 counties elected new sheriffs.

“This year’s an anomaly," said Terry Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriff's Association. "For perspective, the last new sheriff’s class (four years ago) was 14.”

The 33 sheriffs-elect met in Lansing earlier this month for training organized by the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association. Jungel said it was the largest group of new members he could find on record.

"I think it’s important to keep new blood coming in," he said. "And I think it’s important to understand when your time is over, when you’ve accomplished what you wanted to accomplish."

Jungel says the turnover is also an acknowledgement of the changing demands of law enforcement which will require leaders with more tech-savvy perspectives to address calls for increased transparency through body cameras.

8 new sheriffs elected in West Michigan.

8 new sheriffs elected in West Michigan.

In West Michigan, sheriff-elects are replacing retiring sheriffs in Allegan, Cass, Montcalm, Oceana, Ottawa and Van Buren. While the sheriff-elects in Allegan, Cass, Ottawa and Montcalm previously served as undersheriffs in the county.

"Another part of the anomaly was that so many were undersheriffs who knew what they were getting into and still chose to do it, to their credit," Jungel told FOX 17. “Clearly if you’ve been an undersheriff you’re the sheriff in the absence of the sheriff, so you have some idea of what you’re getting into."

Those coming from outside the sheriff's department—like Newaygo County Sheriff-elect Bob Mendham, the outgoing police chief of Grant and White Cloud—face a learning curve for a position that requires knowledge and a broader perspective beyond law enforcement, Jungel said.

"They’re drinking from the fire hydrant because there’s so much being thrown at them so fast," he said.  "The office of the sheriff is so different than any other office in that a police department handles law enforcement, where a sheriff’s office has jails, courts, civil process."

Allegan County Sheriff-elect Frank Baker is a veteran of the department he will now lead.

"I don’t think there’s necessarily a clearer advantage, just a different advantage," Baker said, having previously served as undersheriff.

"My role as the undersheriff really tied me to the daily operations of the agency and the office of the sheriff here and didn’t really leave a lot of extra time to get out and be involved in some of the community aspects of the sheriff’s office."

Baker says he hopes to focus on providing better mental health treatment options in the county, while working to forge productive relationships with neighboring sheriff's departments.

"We all benefit when we work together and have these relationships, especially with the sheriffs who we share borders with," he said.

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