LANSING — In 139 years, Michigan has never had more new sheriffs than the state will get after the 2016 fall election.
At least 26 counties will get new top cops in January. The Michigan Sheriffs’ Association said that’s a record since it was formed in 1877.
Some are running unopposed. In other counties, two newcomers are running. And the turnover could be even greater because an additional 17 incumbents face challengers. If all of them lose those races, then 43 of Michigan’s 83 counties will have new sheriffs.
Of course few incumbents may lose. But regardless of the result of Tuesday’s election, turnover is high.
One reason: some Vietnam-era veterans who went into law enforcement in the 70s are reaching retirement age, said Terrence Jungel, executive director of the organization.
Or it could be happenstance.
“Jupiter is aligned with Mars in the election zodiac,” he joked.
John Miller of Bay County and William Barnwell of Montcalm County are two outgoing sheriffs with military experience in the 1970s.
“I want to go out on my own terms,” said Barnwell, a sheriff for four terms.
Miller said his age is a factor.
“I’m 65 years old. I’ve been in law enforcement for nearly 43 years. I figure it’s time to go,” Miller said.
Some veteran sheriffs aren’t ready to hang up their hats.
Kirk Wakefield, sheriff of Crawford County, and Dale Clarmont, sheriff of Cheboygan County, are both unopposed in their reelection campaigns.
“When it’s in my heart, I guess I’ll be done,” said Wakefield, who was planning to retire this year but changed his mind.
Wakefield hopes his undersheriff will run when he does decide to retire.
Current undersheriffs are running for 15 seats. Undersheriffs are appointed by the sheriff and must be law enforcement officers. Barnwell said he picked his undersheriff knowing he’ll need to run the department in his absence.
The other deputies’ respect was also important to Barnwell.
“Do people want to work for you?” he said.
Barnwell’s undersheriff, Michael Williams, is unopposed in Montcalm County. In Bay County, Miller has endorsed his undersheriff, Troy Cunningham, who is challenged by Jason Holsapple, a former deputy with the department.
The sheriffs’ association already knows it will have at least 32 sheriffs to train in December, Jungel said. In addition to the 26 running unopposed or against a non-incumbent, some sheriffs filled their seats mid-term and never got the new sheriff training the association offers.
The job is more complicated than outsiders to the profession realize, Jungel said, but he isn’t worried about teaching the new sheriffs what they need to know about budgets, jail administration and policing, among other things.
Training standards are higher now and a lot of the new guys are better trained, he said.