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Meet the sheriff's Number Two guy

Oxford resident Mike McCabe to begin 36th year with department

Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe is also an Oxford resident. (click for larger version)
October 10, 2012 - When Mike McCabe was an Oakland County Sheriff's deputy assigned to Avon Township (now Rochester Hills) back in 1982, his partner, Mike Elliott, was critically wounded by an armed robber who shot him twice before speeding away into the night.

"Both the shots entered his body – one through the chest (which punctured a lung) and the other one through his left shoulder," McCabe said.

After Elliott hit the ground, he managed to get up and make it back to his patrol car, where McCabe found him in the driver's seat.

"There was blood everywhere. It was a bloodbath," McCabe said. "He's bleeding like a stuck pig. The windshield's shattered."

Without hesitation, McCabe sprung into action and drove Elliott to nearby Crittenton Hospital.

"The adrenaline was flowing," he said. "He's in the driver's seat. I picked him up and threw him into the passenger seat over the center console. I don't how I did it, but I did."

McCabe didn't panic. He didn't freeze. He didn't wait for medical help to arrive. He did what needed to be done in that moment and as a result, saved his partner's life.

The sheriff's department gave McCabe an award for his actions. "They said if I hadn't taken him to the hospital, he would have bled out waiting for an ambulance."

Thirty years later, McCabe, who's now the undersheriff, still gets choked up when he tells that story.

Although he traded his patrol car for a desk many years ago, the story epitomizes the essence of who Mike McCabe is – someone who's always got your back.

And he has a lot of backs to cover these days, from the sheriff's 1,200 employees to the more than 345,000 county residents that rely on the decisions he makes day in and day out to keep them safe and secure.

When the sheriff's second-in-command is done working his usual 12 to 14 hours a day, he enjoys coming home to Oxford Township, where he's lived for 11 years.

McCabe, 57, doesn't receive the publicity that his boss and friend, Sheriff Michael Bouchard often does, but then again, he really doesn't crave the spotlight.

He just wants to do his job and help make things run as smoothly as possible for the largest full-service sheriff's office in Michigan and the 18th largest in the United States – that's out of 3,081 agencies.

Though he's high in rank, McCabe is still a cop at heart. Oct. 17 marks the beginning of his 36th year with the department, so the Leader decided to profile this highly-influential Oxford resident.

A formative experience

It seems like at some point, every little boy declares he wants to be either a cop or a firefighter when he grows up, but McCabe, who was born and raised in Bloomfield Township and graduated from Brother Rice High School, is one of the few who actually stuck with it.

"My lifelong dream really was to become a police officer," he said. "I was about 5 or 6 years old when I decided that."

A traffic accident led to this decision.

One day, a tractor-trailer collided with the vehicle carrying his mother, oldest brother and himself.

"We all ended up in the hospital," McCabe said. "My mom had a pretty severe cut to her head, but she wasn't seriously injured."

He was "awestruck" by how impressive the Bloomfield Township police officer looked when he came to the hospital to take the report.

"He was a motorcycle officer," McCabe said. "He had these leather boots on, this big gun and shiny badge, and this nice-looking hat . . . I've identified that as the point in my life when I decided, 'I want to be a police officer. I want to carry that gun and drive that motorcycle.'"

Although he never did get that motorcycle, McCabe made the rest of his dream come true when he graduated from Michigan State University in June 1977 with a degree in criminal justice and was hired by the Oakland County Sheriff's Department in October.

"There were six openings at the time and I competed against 800 people," McCabe noted. "I think I'm the last survivor (of those six hires). Everybody else has retired or been fired."

McCabe was no stranger to the department. He did a 10-week internship there during his senior year at MSU.

"I wanted to get hired into the sheriff's office. I thought it was fantastic," he said.

But with a wife and baby at home, McCabe knew he couldn't afford to be choosey, so he was planning to take the first job offer he received. Fortunately, the sheriff's office "called first."

Right after that, he was offered jobs in Kalamazoo and Flint Township. "I applied to 300 different police agencies," he said. "I was on probably 15 hiring lists at the time."

But Oakland County was ultimately where he wanted to be. "I was thrilled to death to get hired there," he said.

Rising through the ranks

After he was hired, McCabe started as a patrol deputy in Avon Township in early 1978.

He spent the next 10 years on the road, primarily assigned to the afternoon shift.

"I like to be busy, so I liked working afternoons," he said.

In 1987, he was promoted to the detective bureau and spent the next two years investigating crimes in Rochester Hills.

McCabe was promoted to sergeant in 1989, then worked a year in the county jail. He spent close to three years working as the substation commander in Orion Township, during which he was promoted to lieutenant in 1991.

McCabe remained in Orion until November 1992 when he was promoted to captain and transferred to the department's headquarters in Pontiac.

Around 1994, the title of deputy chief of staff was added to his captain's rank, then in 1999, he was named chief of staff when Bouchard was appointed sheriff.

About 8 1/2 years ago, McCabe was promoted to undersheriff and chief deputy, the positions he holds today.

"I run the day-to-day operations of the agency," he said, noting the department, which exists on a $141 million budget, is divided between law enforcement and correctional/court services.

McCabe made it clear he didn't set out to become the undersheriff. It wasn't part of some master career plan.

"When I was a patrolman, I thought if I could retire as a sergeant that sure would be neat," he said. "Back then, if you got promoted to sergeant, that was a big deal. The first nine years I was there, we didn't have a test for sergeant because nobody had retired and there were no openings."

The sheriff's department experienced the first layoffs in its history in 1982 and "there were no promotional opportunities then," he added.

McCabe noted that "sergeant is the most important job in any agency."

"It's the first line of supervision," he explained. "Sergeants are critical to the successful operation of any law enforcement agency."

How things change

McCabe indicated the sheriff's department has "changed tremendously" over the last 35 years.

"When I hired in, we had 400 employees total," he said. "Today, we have 1,200. We've tripled in size. Our jail has tripled in size, too. When I hired in, we had about 500 inmates. We have about 1,500 to 1,600 on a daily basis now."

The number of local municipalities who contract with the county for police services has also grown significantly.

In 1977, there were about eight or nine municipalities contracting with the sheriff. Today, there are 11 townships, two villages and three cities that do so.

"We service, by contract, over 345,000 people in Oakland County, out of 1.2 million," McCabe said. "One-third of the residents in Oakland County have the sheriff's office as their local police department. I'm pretty proud of the growth that's taken place."

But it's not just the growth in size and services that McCabe's proud of. He's also pleased with the increased professionalism the department's experienced over the last 35 years.

"We're told by many people outside of Oakland County that the department has become a model for the rest of the state and a lot of the country (as to) how a sheriff's office should be run," he said. "We're pretty proud of that fact. You've got to give Mike Bouchard credit, in the last 13 years, what has happened in this agency has just been nothing short of phenomenal. I'm really proud to be a part of that. I really am. I get goose bumps just talking about it."

Reactive versus proactive policing

"Overall, (the) crime (rate) is slowly, but surely coming down and a lot of that is because of technology," McCabe said. "In the old days, you were reactive, not proactive.

"Police agencies today, and us especially at the sheriff's office, have become more and more proactive because we have crime mapping and computer-aided dispatch. We're able to look at certain areas, draw a circle around them and say, 'Hey, we've got a crime trend here (involving) larcenies from autos in the last two weeks in this neighborhood.' We're able to concentrate our resources there when we're not responding to other calls."

Subsequent "high-profile patrols" in the area can then either deter future crimes and/or lead to arrests.

"The bottom-line is when you arrest somebody who's committed multiple crimes, guess what? They're not going to commit any more of those crimes in the future," McCabe said. "That helps drive the crime rate down."

Dealing with tough times

Like virtually every other government entity and agency in Michigan, the sheriff's department has been dealing with declining tax revenues associated with property values that have dropped between 25 and 40 percent countywide.

"We've cut $16 million out of our budget in the last five years," McCabe said. "We've eliminated about 165 positions."

"While we appear to be over the hump and the economy seems to be slowly turning around," McCabe said, "the challenge is to get us back to where we were with previous staffing levels."

That's why McCabe believes it's absolutely critical that Oxford Township voters approve a proposed two-year, 1-mill increase for police services on the Nov. 6 ballot, so as to enable the substation there to restore a deputy's position that was previously cut and add a detective whose sole job is to investigate crimes involving juveniles as both suspects and victims.

"I personally encourage everybody to support that millage increase," he said. "I'm going to be knocking on doors in my subdivision in Waterstone. Even with that 1-mill increase, you'll still be paying less property taxes than you were five years ago because of the drop in taxable value (that affected) everybody's property in the township."

Given the average taxable valuable of a residential property in the township (not including the village) is currently $96,800, if this increase is approved, it will cost the average homeowner $96.80 more annually, according to McCabe. Considering the average cable television bill is about $75 per month, the undersheriff considers this increase a small price to pay for a safer community.

The township substation's current staffing – which consists of one sergeant, one detective and 11 road patrol deputies – has resulted in policing that is "mostly reactive instead of proactive," according to McCabe. "We want to get back to doing proactive policing in the township and giving the residents what they deserve.

"Let's face it, you get an accident at M-24 and Drahner, and there's only two (patrol) cars on duty, they're going to be tied up there, handling that accident for a half-an-hour or 45 minutes. They're not going to be out patrolling in a subdivision or dealing with a cut-through (traffic) problem. Stuff like that will suffer if we don't get back to the staffing levels we used to have."

Oxford's 13 sheriff's officers serve a township population of 17,090 residents, not including the village.

That staffing is fairly low when one considers that back when the sheriff's department started policing Oxford in 2000, it utilized 11 officers to cover a population of 12,467 residents, again not including the village.

"Oxford Township has grown tremendously in population in the last 12 years since the sheriff's office took over," McCabe said. "The amount of calls for service have gone up tremendously."

The addition of a detective to deal exclusively with juvenile-related crimes is quite necessary in McCabe's view.

"We need that," he said. "Those juvenile complaints are very time-consuming. When Oxford Community Schools did away with their school liaison officer (through the sheriff's department), all those calls for service fell back on us. We still have to take and service those calls that used to be covered by the school liaison deputy. All they did was shift the workload back on to the substation deputies."

Molding the next generation

When asked what the most rewarding part of his job is, McCabe replied, "Mentoring younger employees."

"We're all charged with training our replacements," he said.

McCabe enjoys seeing the people he's hired rise through the ranks and become successful like Sgt. Scott Patterson, who commands the Oxford Township substation.

"There's a class act right there," he said. "That guy is going places in this agency. He's a sharp, sharp guy. He gets it. He's one of the hardest workers that I know."

McCabe's primary advice to young deputies is always "don't ever let your guard down" when on-duty.

"There is no such thing as a routine call," McCabe said. "It can turn in a millisecond and become a fatal situation. You've always got to be on your toes."

Future plans

So what does the future hold for McCabe?

Retirement, perhaps? "I told Bouchard I'll stay on at least through his next term, which is another four years," he said. "We'll assess it after that. I'll have 40 years on the job at the end of Mike's next term. I've very confident he's going to get reelected."

How does Sheriff McCabe sound?

"Quite frankly, it's never been my desire to be the Number One guy," he said. "Honest to God, that's never been something of interest to me. I enjoy the job that I have being the operations guy.

"Being sheriff is a lot different than being the undersheriff. Mike Bouchard is out and about every night. I put in a lot of hours, but I take a briefcase and computer home with me, so I get to do a lot of stuff from home at night. Mike's out on the road all the time representing this great sheriff's office at various community events. He's the face of the agency and that's a lot of nights away from home. I don't know that that's something that interests me."

In the end, McCabe wants to keep being Bouchard's Number Two guy. "I really enjoy the team approach," he said. "He's the boss. He makes the tough calls. I give him advice and most of the time, we're on the same page."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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