There are 588 separate law enforcement agencies in Michigan, employing some 17,000 officers. These agencies serve and are governed by a variety of jurisdictions, including:
- Counties, cities, townships and villages;
- Airports, railways and parks;
- Tribal areas; and
- Universities, community colleges and public schools.
The state of Michigan also maintains its own police force: the Michigan State Police.
Michigan State Police
The Michigan State Police was established in 1917 as a temporary domestic 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 force 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.
State laws govern the structure and activities of the MSP, which include patrolling state highways, providing emergency response services, certifying special agents such as conservation or railway officers, maintaining a sex-offender registry and providing investigative services. A significant MSP function is to provide a variety of enforcement, investigation and support services to local law enforcement and other government agencies. The MSP employs officers and personnel to provide operations such as 911 administration, training and forensic science services, casino oversight and tobacco tax fraud enforcement. In addition, MSP operates a field service called the Secure Cities Partnership, which provides services to several Michigan cities with the highest violent crime rates. State police troopers have statewide authority to enforce state law, which helps ensure that criminals do not escape punishment for illegal activity in one county by fleeing to a different one.
MSP also provides grants to local agencies, local highway patrols, special traffic enforcement for commercial vehicles, disaster training and response, special operations like aviation and SWAT, and highway safety planning. It develops training criteria and law enforcement standards as well.
In fiscal year 2017, the MSP had a gross budget of about $650 million, $400 million of which is funded through the state’s general fund. The rest comes from the federal government, local agencies with service sharing agreements and private grants.[a]
County Sheriffs’ Offices
The Michigan Constitution states that each county shall elect a sheriff.[b] The only elected law enforcement officers at the county level, sheriffs serve four-year terms and are constitutionally required to be independent and accountable. They may not hold any other office concurrently with their role as sheriff, and the county board of supervisors is not held liable for their conduct.
The sheriff’s responsibilities are outlined in statute and case law, and include operating the county jail, enforcing county ordinances and state laws within the county, monitoring criminal activity and inadequately policed areas, providing security at the local courthouse and keeping records on jail usage and crime rates. Although sheriffs’ offices have jurisdiction to enforce state and county laws and ordinances anywhere within the county, they do not directly oversee the operations of local municipal or city law enforcement agencies. County sheriffs’ offices are funded by local taxes raised by their respective county commissions.
Local Police Departments
Local police departments are not constitutionally required in Michigan. Some cities opt to establish 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.
The services provided by local police departments vary from place to place. These may include basic services such as responding to calls from citizens, patrolling roads and investigating crimes, but also services that may be specific to their jurisdiction’s unique needs, such as providing educational programming, maintaining tactical units and operating crime labs. Indeed, a major benefit of having a local police department is that the community is in a position to support the policing services that meet its unique needs while maintaining control over how those services are provided.[c]
Local police departments are funded by the city that employs them, so a city may use special taxes or sell municipal bonds to fund the department. The state and federal governments make grants available to local departments as well.
If a municipality does not maintain its own dedicated police force, it may enter into a contract for dedicated policing services with its county or other municipality. It may negotiate the amount and type of services these partnering entities provide. Some municipalities may pool resources, consolidating certain police functions to be shared, cross-deputizing police officers so they jointly serve both municipalities or entirely sharing a combined police department. Municipalities may also hire private security officers to provide additional law enforcement in a particular location, although this is not common; only Detroit Public Schools, Lansing School District and Wayne County Community College District maintain a private security police force.
Local police officers’ priorities are dictated by their chief, who answers to a city council, township board or equivalent governing body. This relationship aims to ensure that the department focuses on issues of local importance.
Other Law Enforcement Agencies
Corporations, tribal governments, state departments and schools also employ law enforcement agencies with specialized responsibilities. For example:
- Conservation officers are employed by the Department of Natural Resources to enforce DNR regulations and other state laws.
- 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.[d]
- Tribal police officers are employed by one of Michigan’s 12 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. Several tribes have entered into “cross deputation agreements” with county sheriff’s offices and the Michigan State Police. Deputation grants tribal police officers the authority to enforce state laws outside the bounds of the tribal reservation. It gives tribal police and county police the ability to enforce laws without having to stop and determine the identities of the victim and suspect or where they are in relation to the boundaries of tribal territory, which can be irregular and difficult to locate on the move. Tribal police may also be commissioned as federal agents by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.
- 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.[e] Per state law, university police officers have law enforcement authority on all property that is governed by a university’s boards of trustees. Officers are responsible for enforcing state law and the ordinances of their university.[f] School districts may also manage their own police departments, although only the state’s largest K-12 district system — Detroit Public Schools — does.
- 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 and is responsible for general law enforcement activities, such as traffic control and emergency response, and special tasks like employing drug-sniffing dogs and locating and disarming explosives.
[a] In fiscal 2017, the Michigan State Police received over $94 million in federal funding, amounting to 14 percent of its budget. Kent Dell, “Budget Briefing: State Police” (Michigan House Fiscal Agency, Jan. 2017), 6, https://perma.cc/Z5WH-JT38. Federal aid to local departments varies by department and source.
[b] Mich Const, art. 7, § 4. Michigan courts have held that “[t]he state has constitutionally delegated the duty of law enforcement to the county by providing for the office of sheriff.” Brownstown Township v Wayne County, 68 Mich App 244 (1976).
[c] For more information about factors that influence municipal officials when establishing their own police department, see: Deborah Spence, Barbara Webster and Edward Connors, “Guidelines for Starting and Operating a New Police Department” (U.S. Department of Justice), https://perma.cc/G5E6-S42G.
[d] The Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards sets these standards for all law enforcement officers in Michigan. MCL § 462.377; “Licensing and Commissioning of Railroad Police Officers” (Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, 2018), https://perma.cc/84B5-3SVU.
[e] Each state university’s website references a university-controlled law enforcement department.
[f] Occasionally this means that nonstudents may be subject to a university ordinance. For instance, in 2016, Michigan State University banned the use of tobacco on its property, which included publicly accessible roads used by nonstudents. Kahryn Riley, “MSU Car Smoking Ban Increases Potential for Community-Police Tensions: Health-Consciousness Posturing Not Worth the Cost,” Michigan Capitol Confidential (Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Aug. 3, 2016), https://perma.cc/N773-B9DR.