Sheriff Jim Northrop served Cass County the longest
Published 12:55 am Thursday, March 30, 2006
James E. Northrop, who died March 24 at 72, was Cass County's longest-serving sheriff at more than 19 years, from Jan. 1, 1969, until April 1, 1988.
When he retired 18 years ago, Northrop ended a career in law enforcement that spanned almost 30 years.
Before he became sheriff, Northrop also served with the Dowagiac Police Department.
Both Police Chief Tom Atkinson and current Sheriff Joe Underwood learned the ropes in Northrop's department.
In fact, Northrop, Paul Parrish and Underwood are the only sheriffs Cass County has had during a period of time the United States has had seven presidents.
Indeed, one thing he found while cleaning out his desk was a box containing a set of fingerprints of his 6-year-old brother, Ray, which Jim made when he was a boy of 11.
Under Northrop, the department operated its own laboratory and boasted a trained polygraph operator - facilities and personnel that many larger departments didn't enjoy.
And the Cass County Sheriff's Department's record for solving crimes was the envy of other area agencies.
When he stepped down, only one open murder remained on the books, a shooting in Dowagiac in the fall of 1986 that has since been solved.
Besides his law enforcement career, Northrop also served 29 years in the U.S. Marines, Army Reserves and Michigan National Guard, from which he retired as a major.
Northrop, who also led the Michigan Sheriffs' Association, felt “lucky” the people of Cass County returned him to office five times.
Considering sheriff can be one of the most volatile political perches, their ballot support is more like tacit testimony that, as Northrop said, “I did my best to give them a professional department they could be proud of.”
He did and they were.