LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — When voters in Michigan went to the polls last month, they helped decide more than the presidential race — they also elected newcomers to run sheriff’s departments in 33 of Michigan’s 83 counties.

Sheriffs-elect from those 33 counties are meeting in Lansing this week for the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association New Sheriffs Institute.

Many of the new sheriffs, like Ottawa County’s Sheriff-elect Steve Kempker, are veterans of the department they will now lead, having risen through the ranks of the agencies before being elected to the top position.

“The biggest thing I’m getting out of the class is making the connection with the other sheriffs around the state,” Kempker said. “If we have issues, we can bounce them off from each other. There’s 30-plus of us in here, but statewide there’s 83 sheriffs that we can use as resources.”

On the other hand, some of the new sheriffs are coming from local police departments. For them, the institute is a real eye-opener.

“Every day,” Newaygo County Sheriff-elect Bob Mendham said, “every day there’s been something new. And I think we’ve all looked around and thought, ‘What have we gotten ourselves into?'”

Currently the White Cloud and Grant police chief, he’ll trade his police department blue for sheriff’s office brown in a few weeks.

Mendham and Kempker among seven new sheriffs in West Michigan counties.

Blaine Koops has been in law enforcement for 42 years, the last 16 of which were spent as Allegan County’s sheriff. Next month, he takes off the badge and assumes his new role as director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association. He’s well aware of the challenges his fellow sheriffs face every day.

“It’s much more encompassing than just law enforcement,” Koops said.

For many in the public, there’s little difference between a sheriff’s deputy and a police officer or between a sheriff and a police chief. But while they assume many of the same duties — such as road patrols and detective units — when it comes to running a sheriff’s office, there are some major differences.

“The sheriff is responsible also for the correctional institution, also known as the county jail. He’s also in charge of courthouse security. And he’s got civil process responsibilities as well. So once you take that and blend those all together, it becomes pretty overwhelming early on in a sheriff’s career to understand all the aspects around that,” Koops said. “It is a constitutional office, and so it cannot be taken lightly. There’s a lot of liability. There’s also of constitutional issues that they have to cover, they have to understand if they’re going to do this job right.”

Despite the trepidation, Mendham, the new Newaygo County sheriff, sees more opportunity than challenge, especially in the current climate when it comes to law enforcement’s relations with the public.

“It’s our chance to make it better for the rest of the folks doing the job that we’re all doing,” Mendham said.