SHERIFF'S CORNER: Police agencies in Michigan

Lake County Sheriff Rich Martin

Lake County Sheriff Rich Martin

Courtesy of Lake County Sheriff's Office

You see blue uniforms, brown uniforms, stars and shields. You hear the words "county mountie," "state boy," "local yocal," "po-po," "the fuzz," "pigs," "five-o," "the man" or "rollers." The "cops," as we all refer to them, are a very diverse group covering many jurisdictions and different municipalities.

There are 588 separate police agencies in Michigan, employing some 17,000 officers. These are grouped into the following categories:

  • Counties, cities, townships, charter townships and villages;
  • Airports, railways and parks;
  • Tribal areas; and
  • Universities, community colleges and public schools.

In this edition of the "Sheriff's Corner," I cover the many different definitions of police agencies in Michigan.

MICHIGAN STATE POLICE: In 1917, The Michigan State Police was established as a temporary state security force of 300 men during World War I. Known then as the Michigan State Constabulary, it was reorganized in 1919 as a permanent police agency and today employs over 2,900 people. The state adopted a new constitution in 1963 that authorized the creation of 20 state departments and established the Department of the State Police of Michigan in a subsequent law in 1965.

MSP has jurisdiction over the complete state covering rural areas with limited or no other police agency, provides support services with other police agencies and also patrol urban areas such as Detroit. MSP also has other divisions such as Commercial Vehicle Enforcement (aka Motor Carrier), security for the state capitol and the MSP crime lab. MSP has broad jurisdiction over the state, but does not have more authority, rather the same authority, of a local police department or sheriff' office.

COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICES: The Michigan Constitution states that each county shall elect a Sheriff. The only elected law enforcement officers at the county level, sheriffs serve four-year terms and are constitutionally required to be independent and accountable.

The Sheriff is required by statute to operate a county jail, the recovery of drowned bodies and provide paper service. Most Sheriff's also provide dedicated law enforcement services such as road patrol and investigations.

The Sheriff is the only law enforcement officer elected by the people in which he/she serves.

LOCAL POLICE DEPARTMENTS: Local police departments are not constitutionally required in Michigan. Some cities, villages and townships choose to have their own police department, while others partner with nearby municipalities or the county sheriff’s department to provide law enforcement services.

Municipal police chiefs are not elected; they are hired by a municipality’s government and a local police officer’s jurisdiction is generally limited to the boundaries of their employer’s municipality.

CONSERVATION OFFICER: As commonly referred to as the "DNR," Conservation Officers are employed by the Department of Natural Resources to enforce DNR regulations and other state laws. Conservation Officers have full police powers throughout the state (similar to that of the Michigan State Police) and can enforce any law at the state or local level.

In Lake County, they are an intricate part for law enforcement response as well as assisting the Sheriff's Office.

RAILROAD POLICE OFFICERS: Railroad police officers are employees of companies that own and operate railroads in Michigan. The state police are responsible for ensuring that these individuals are trained to the same standard as law enforcement officers, although railroad officers’ authority is more limited in scope. They enforce state and local laws concerning railroads.

Currently, there are seven railroad police agencies that operate in Michigan:

  • Adrian & Blissfield Railroad Police
  • Amtrak Police
  • Canadian National Railway Police
  • Canadian Pacific Police Service
  • CSX Police Department
  • Norfolk Southern Railway Police
  • Great Lakes Central Railroad Police

PRIVATE SECURITY POLICE OFFICERS: Under PA 330 of 1968, licensed private security police agencies are empowered to hire licensed private security police officers. Licensed private security police officers, also referred to as "arrest authority" security guards, have misdemeanor arrest authority while on active duty, on their employer's premises and in full uniform. One person, usually a security manager, is responsible for licensing and all of the employees that have the "arrest authority."

Currently, there are 14 licensed private security police agencies in Michigan:

  • Ascension St. John Hospital & Medical Center
  • Beaumont Health
  • Detroit Medical Center
  • Detroit Public Schools
  • General Motors Company
  • Henry Ford Health System
  • Lansing Public Schools
  • Memorial Healthcare
  • Renaissance Center Management Corp.
  • Sparrow Hospital
  • Spectrum Health
  • University of Detroit Mercy
  • University of Michigan
  • Wayne County Community College District

TRIBAL POLICE: Tribal police officers are employed by one of Michigan’s tribal governments pursuant to federal law. They can obtain a certification from the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards that grants them jurisdiction within the tribal territory to enforce state, federal and tribal law, meaning they may be tasked with everything from responding to emergencies and investigating crimes to enforcing conservation and gaming laws.

Currently, there are 12 tribal police agencies in Michigan:

  • Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians Police Department (Dowagiac)
  • Saginaw Chippewa Police Department (Mt. Pleasant)
  • Grand Traverse Band Public Safety (Suttons Bay)
  • Pokagon Band Tribal Police (New Buffalo)
  • Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Police (Standish)
  • Sault Tribe Police Department (Sault Ste Marie-UP)
  • Keweenaw Bay Tribal Police (Baraga-UP)
  • Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi Tribal Police (Fulton)
  • Hannahville Tribal Police Department (Harris)
  • Gun Lake Tribe Public Safety (Shelbyville)
  • Bay Mills Indian Police Department (Brimley-UP)
  • Chippewa Indians Conservation (Sault Ste Marie-UP)

CAMPUS POLICE: University police, or public safety officers, as they are referred to in some places, are employed by all of the state public universities and many community colleges. Per state law, university police officers have law enforcement authority on all property that is governed by a university’s boards of trustees.

Here are some of the campus police agencies in Michigan:

  • Central Michigan University Police Department
  • Eastern Michigan University Department of Public Safety
  • Ferris State University Department of Public Safety
  • Grand Rapids Community College Police Department
  • Grand Valley State University Department of Public Safety
  • Kalamazoo Valley Community College Police
  • Kellogg Community College Department of Public Safety
  • Lansing Community College Police and Public Safety Department
  • Michigan State University Police Department
  • Michigan Tech Department of Public Safety
  • Northern Michigan University Public Safety and Police Services
  • Oakland Community College Police
  • Oakland University Police
  • Saginaw Valley State University Police
  • University of Michigan Police Department
  • Wayne State University Police
  • Western Michigan University Police Department
  • Wayne County Community College District Police

AIRPORT POLICE: Detroit Metropolitan, Gerald R. Ford International, Bishop International and Capital Region International airports all maintain police departments. The respective county airport authority employs the police force, which has jurisdiction within the airport boundaries. In addition to supporting TSA with passenger screening, airport police officers perform regular law enforcement duties throughout the airport.

OTHER POLICE AGENCIES: There are a few law enforcement agencies that fall into none of the other listed categories:

  • Genesee County Park Ranger Police Department
  • Metroparks Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority Police Department
  • U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement
  • Michigan Attorney General Enforcement Division


1. Michigan State Police

  • Total full-time employees in 2016:  2,933
  • Uniformed officers: 1,896
  • Civilians: 1,037

2. Detroit Police Department

  • Total 2016 full-time employees: 2,855
  • Uniformed officers: 2,350
  • Civilians: 505

3. Oakland County Sheriff's Office (Location: Pontiac/Detroit Metro Area)

  • Total 2016 full-time employees: 1,042
  • Uniformed officers: 859
  • Civilians: 183

4. Wayne County Sheriff's Office (Location: City of Detroit/Detroit Metro Area)

  • Total 2016 full-time employees: 920
  • Uniformed officers: 629
  • Civilians: 291

5. Kent County Sheriff's Office (Location: Grand Rapids)

  • Total 2016 full-time employees: 531
  • Uniformed officers: 207
  • Civilians: 324

6. Macomb County Sheriff's Office (Location: Mt. Clemens/Detroit Metro Area)

  • Total 2016 full-time employees: 508
  • Uniformed officers: 241
  • Civilians:267

7. Grand Rapids Police Department

  • Total 2016 full-time employees: 335
  • Uniformed officers: 276
  • Civilians: 59

8. Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department (Location: Ann Arbor)

  • Total 2016 full-time employees: 303
  • Uniformed officers: 128
  • Civilians:175

9. Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety

  • Total 2016 full-time employees: 259
  • Uniformed officers: 216
  • Civilians: 43

10. Genesee County Sheriff's Office (Location: Flint Area)

  • Total 2016 full-time population: 247
  • Uniformed officers: 113
  • Civilians: 134

— This information is provided to you for clarification on specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law. Topics covered are for educational and informational purposes only. As needed, excerpts from other articles are used for reference and/or content. If you have any questions on any specific topic, you may always email me your questions to