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Michigan legislature considers tougher requirements for county sheriffs

Michigan Capitol Building in Lansing Michigan
Megan Schellong

Running for county sheriff in Michigan could soon become harder. The state legislature is considering new job requirements for the office.

Right now, candidates for county sheriff only need to prove residency and voter eligibility in the area they are seeking to serve.

House Bill 4981 would require a stronger resume for the job. Prospective sheriffs would need to be licensed law enforcement or experienced corrections officers.

The Michigan Sheriff’s Association is supporting the legislation.

“The individual that is going to assume the duties of the chief law enforcement officer in the county that he or she is elected to serve should have some sort of background and the job that they are going to be performing,” said Michigan Sheriff’s Association Executive Director Matthew Saxton.

State Rep. Brian BeGole (R-Antrim Township) introduced the bill earlier this year, saying the change is important as sheriffs’ responsibilities include road patrol, 911 central dispatch, jail operations and emergency management.

“I believe people who have some level of experience handling some of these different responsibilities will ultimately provide the best services for residents and our communities,” Begole said in a press release. “A police department would not hire a police chief who has no law enforcement experience. This should be no different.”

Opponents argue that it should be left to voters to determine whether a candidate is sufficiently qualified.

Rick Briand, a candidate for sheriff in Berrien County, is concerned about the effort. He said the bill is a threat to the state’s electoral process.

“The Sheriff must forever remain the people’s peacekeeper, resolute in their allegiance to the community, free from the constraints of state, county or city servitude,” he wrote in a letter to legislators.

According to the Michigan Sheriff’s Association, all 83 elected sheriffs in the state meet the bill’s job requirements.

The legislation has already received approval from the state House and is awaiting a vote in the Senate.

CORRECTION: The CEO of the Michigan Sheriff’s Association is Matthew Saxton. A previous version of the story gave his name as Matthew Sexton.

As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community.
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