Sheriff’s Office celebrates 195 years in the community

By: Sherri Kolade | C&G Newspapers | Published April 15, 2015

 The first Oakland County sheriff, William Morris, served from 1820-27.

The first Oakland County sheriff, William Morris, served from 1820-27.

Image provided by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office


OAKLAND COUNTY — From catching criminals on horseback in the 1820s to using helicopters today, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office has maintained the same values it was founded on nearly two centuries ago, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said.

“It has really evolved, but the mission is the same: to have honorable men and women do all they can to make this a great community,” Bouchard said.

The Sheriff’s Office is celebrating protecting and serving the residents and businesses of Oakland County since the first sheriff, William Morris, was sworn in — when only 330 people called the county home. Oakland County has 1.2 million residents today.

Currently, the Sheriff’s Office is the largest full-service sheriff’s office in the state and one of the 20 largest in the United States, Bouchard, Oakland County’s 41st sheriff, said. Bouchard has been the county sheriff for 17 years, with a total of 30 years in law enforcement.

The Sheriff’s Office’s humble beginnings did not include the current coverage of the over 2,500 miles of roads and 450 lakes within its 910 square miles. In the 1820s — when James Monroe was president and the country only had 23 states — Oakland County did not have real roads, according to the Sheriff’s Office. At that time, the county stretched from its current borders to the thumb of Michigan and north along Lake Huron, almost to Alpena, Undersheriff Michael McCabe said.

“The changes have been phenomenal in terms of growth,” McCabe said. “I’m proud to be a member of this agency for as many years as I have been, and ( I am) looking forward to the next 195 years.”

Early sheriffs and deputy sheriffs enforced the laws at a time when communication was done by direct contact and written letters, according to a press release. Today, a deputy on patrol may communicate and operate with the latest technology —  digital radios and video equipment, global positioning systems, mobile command units and more.

A pair of rusty handcuffs, with screw hinges and a lock, hangs outside Bouchard’s office, a relic of times gone by and a reminder of the Sheriff’s Office’s continual advances.

“You think of somebody carrying those or riding on horseback sometimes for hours to today’s world, where we have deputies that are pilots in our aviation division to our crime lab, that are collecting and analyzing DNA,” Bouchard said.

Morris, who was sheriff from 1820-27, was appointed by Lewis Cass, then-governor of the territory. The appointment was originally for life, with no set expiration, according to the historical document.

“In America, the office of the sheriff was something that became a common idea, and it started out East, then spread out to the rest of the country, where you typically think about it: the wild, wild, West, the old-time cowboy sheriffs,” Bouchard said. “They actually started out East and then kind of moved across the country as the country grew.”

McCabe, who started in the Sheriff’s Office in 1977 as a road patrol deputy, said that in his nearly 40 years with the department, he has seen many changes, from working with about 400 employees to now working with about 1,300 employees.

“We have 15 communities (and service) about 350,000 people as a local police department under contract,” McCabe said. “The biggest thing since I’ve been here is technology changes.”

He added that since 1977, the Sheriff’s Office has become much more “proactive” than “reactive” when it comes to policing. McCabe said crime-mapping and other forms of patrolling have led to a “huge reduction in crime.”

Bouchard said Pontiac has always been the county seat and home to the court and the jail, which currently houses 1,600 prisoners.

“It is pretty exciting to be a part of that history, knowing the sheriff in Oakland County was one of the first law enforcement offices in the whole state,” he said. “It is always great to talk to people who have had a career here, and then come back and celebrate their career. While it is a milestone for the office of the sheriff, it is really one that is made by the people of the Sheriff’s Office, and they have had a tradition of serving the community in a variety of ways. It is quite an operation.”

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