Cass County Sheriff will leave strong legacy for future

Late last week, Cass County Sheriff Joseph Underwood announced that, after nearly a quarter-century serving as the head of county law enforcement, he would not be seeking reelection in November, leaving the department at the end of his term this year.

While it’s unfortunate to see him leave, no one can say Underwood’s impending retirement isn’t well deserved.

Since his election as Sheriff in 1993, Underwood has transformed how the county handles law enforcement — several times over.

One of the major things he accomplished in his 24 years of service to the people of Cass County was turning the sheriff’s office from a part-time agency to a full-time department, with deputies now patrolling the county’s highways and townships 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As a result, the number of annual traffic-related fatalities has fallen by over half, with residents now knowing that at anytime they could be pulled over for speeding or erratic driving.

As the menace of methamphetamine abuse spread into the county more than a decade ago, Underwood and other law enforcement leaders responded in kind, working to convince voters to pass a millage in 2004 that expanded the operations of the Cass County Drug Enforcement Team to combat the manufacture and use of meth and other dangerous substances within the area.

But perhaps Underwood’s biggest accomplishment was working to connect his office with the greater community, holding events where they explained their operations as well as working with Southwestern Michigan College to provide better — and more affordable — law enforcement education to students.

“We can’t be successful without the community, and the community can’t be successful without law enforcement,” Underwood said, and we couldn’t agree more.

Today, as departments throughout the country adjust to new, digitally-powered methods of combating crime, Underwood and his staff continue to work with county leadership to ensure that even a small county like Cass can receive the best possible law enforcement.

Over the years, Underwood has built a department full of people with the same strong commitment to local policing as he possesses, and we have no doubt they will continue to protect our local roadways and communities to the best of their abilities.

We wish the sheriff luck next year when he finally retires his badge and returns to civilian life. We also hope that a strong pool of candidates decide to run in November to replace Underwood. One thing is for sure — they will have a heck of pair of shoes to fill.

 

Opinions expressed are those of the editorial board consisting of Publisher Michael Caldwell and editors Ambrosia Neldon, Craig Haupert, Ted Yoakum and Scott Novak.

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