Retired Det. Sgt. Chad Spence announced over the weekend he is running for St. Joseph County Sheriff in 2024. In a Facebook post on Saturday, April 22, Spence said, “After a lot of prayer, advice, and guidance from several friends, family, and former colleagues, I made the decision to file my paperwork yesterday.”
Spence told Watershed Voice the decision to run for sheriff is a dream he has had since he was a child growing up and watching his father serve as a reserve deputy in the sheriff’s office. “They would have monthly reserve meetings and I would go with him, and I remember sitting in the meetings and the certified deputies would come in standing there in those brown uniforms, I just remember thinking it was the neatest thing,” Spence said. “That’s when I knew it was what I wanted to do. That’s where I got the hook, and ever since then I geared my life toward it.”
After he obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Ferris State University, Spence was immediately hired by the St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Office where he served for 26 years. Beginning with patrols and then transitioning into the narcotics unit, Spence was then promoted to Sergeant, and later, Detective Sergeant before his retirement last year. “When I started my career at the sheriff’s department I just never turned down anything, and I wanted to do everything I could to learn all about law enforcement whether it was evidence collection, tactical stuff, firearms, interviewing, radar…everything they asked me to do I did,” Spence said.
Among the many positions he took on during his time with the department were evidence technician, Major Crimes Scene Task Force Investigator, Special Response Team Commander, firearms instructor, Blood Spatter Reconstruction expert, and MISSION Team Investigator with Internal Affairs.
Spence said he believes he will bring an important virtue if elected as sheriff: accountability. While serving with MISSION Spence investigated other sheriff agencies in their internal investigations for several years — a job he says is necessary, though many don’t want to do it. “Those investigations are important for our profession,” he said. “If there are things like misconduct they need to be dealt with, and they need to be held accountable so we can keep our professions the way they should be.”
Since his retirement, Spence has spent the past year leading the inaugural Career Technical Education (CTE) Public Safety class at Centreville High School. Last week Spence took members of the program to Lansing where his class was honored at the State Capitol during the CTE Showcase. The students explained to legislators what the public safety program is, what they’re doing in and outside of the classroom, and what they hope to accomplish. “What I want to do is to take my knowledge and pass it on to the generation coming in, and that’s why I do the CTE position,” Spence said. “I want to get that information out at an early age, and get people excited about law enforcement.”
If elected as sheriff, Spence will continue his involvement with the CTE public safety class, even if he will not be the instructor. “A student asked me why I can’t do both, so I explained the taxpayers pay the sheriff’s wage and that wage is for me to do a job at the sheriff’s office and not here,” he said, adding he would “absolutely love to do both” jobs. Instead, Spence said he has many ideas to take the department “to the next level,” and said he and his deputies along with other agencies would remain actively involved.
When it comes to changes he would make if elected, Spence said he would begin with a restructuring of several components in order to create a different culture within the department. “It would start with a lot of different ideas in training, maybe consistently more training, and to also train the new officers coming in because it’s hard to catch up and correct those actions if you don’t start off right away,” he said. According to Spence, there are many young people coming out of the police academy who need guidance, and said he believed that guidance must start at the beginning and remain consistent over a period of time.
Secondly, Spence said he will strive to foster connections if elected as sheriff, with one such example being the GED program for inmates at the county jail. “I retired, and then started working in the jail as a jail teacher in preparing inmates for their GED, and I made connections there which was really gratifying,” he said. The inmates knew Spence’s background coming into the program, and he said there were some trust issues early on. However, as the students and teacher began to learn more about each other, a bond was formed through mutual understanding and counseling. “It was one of the neatest things I’ve ever done,” Spence said, adding that he plans to revamp and continue to assist with the program.
Spence said he hopes to reconnect law enforcement agencies within the county. “We’ve always taken pride in this area of working together, and I think it’s important because when you have all these talented people in other agencies we should be all sharing our knowledge,” he said. “We should rely on each other to make each other better — I think that’s something we could do immediately.”
Whether it was being in the community with the SWAT team or on the Major Crime Scene Task Force, Spence said his outlook has always been that it is possible to take something good, and make it even better. “I’m building an amazing team, and you’ll see things that you’ve never seen before that will be so positive,” he said, adding he cares deeply about the history of the sheriff’s office along with all the people who have served before him, during his time, and who will serve after.
“I truly believe I can do some amazing things to change the culture there, take it to the next level, and make my visions a reality. It’s just about going in there and doing a great thing for a really great place and really great people. I know I can make that happen.”
Beca Welty is a staff writer and columnist for Watershed Voice.