When Glen Skrent left the gritty downriver area of metro Detroit in the 1970s in pursuit of a career as a conservation officer, becoming sheriff of Tuscola County was not on his radar.
However, Skrent says he’s ready for it now, especially after being elected sheriff in November and on the eve of taking over the role from retiring Tuscola County Sheriff Leland “Lee” Teschendorf on Jan. 1.
Skrent, 61, has been with the Tuscola County Sheriff’s Department since 1978, worked his way up the ladder during that time, and most recently served as undersheriff.
“I’ve worked all the aspects of the job so I know what’s needed and what’s not,” Skrent told The Advertiser.
“He’s going to do a good job,” said Mark Reene, prosecutor, Tuscola County. “I’ve been fortunate because I’ve been able to work with him in a variety of different roles at the sheriff’s department — as a sergeant, as a detective, and, of course, most recently as the undersheriff.”
Having the experience together is important, Reene said, because “it’s extremely important that a sheriff’s department and a prosecutor’s office be able to work together toward common objectives.
“You don’t always have that (outside of Tuscola County),” Reene said.
Skrent grew up in Lincoln Park, essentially the heart of the downriver region bordered by the likes of Detroit, Allen Park, and Southgate.
It’s an industrial area that always seems to be gray and is mostly identified by the smokestacks that line the landscape and consistently shoot smoke or steam or both into the sky.
Skrent said he wanted the opposite of it in the mid-1970s so decided to become a conservation officer.
He headed for Alpena Community College and began his studies. He earned an associate’s degree in dendrology.
“But while we were out surveying one day at the college campus, a trooper got killed on U.S. 23 during a traffic stop,” Skrent said. “Well, the tracking dog and two troopers came running right by us and something just struck me that I was in the wrong line of work.”
As soon as he could, Skrent said he switched curriculum and began taking law enforcement classes. He said his grades improved from “fair” to making the dean’s list. He transferred to what was then known as Ferris State College (it became Ferris State University in 1987).
Skrent would go on to earn his bachelor’s degree and certification from Ferris State.
His first job out of college was in Cass City, where he was hired in 1978 by former Chief Gene Wilson.
“I liked it because it was rural and I wanted country living, not city life,” Skrent said. “Lincoln Park just doesn’t appeal to me.”
Skrent said he worked in Cass City for a few months before being hired by then-Sheriff Hugh Marr with the Tuscola County Sheriff’s Department.
Since then, Skrent said he served in many roles: working in the jail, in dispatch, road patrol — wherever there was work to be done of protecting citizens. He would become dispatch director for a time and go on to be a sergeant in the 1990s.
Reene said Skrent’s familiarity with the department will benefit the community.
“There are so many things administratively across the board…to try and come in and not have that (intimate knowledge of the system), you would just be trying to play catch up,” Reene said. “He’s going to be able to hit the ground running.”
Though Tuscola County offers him the opportunities to do what he loves — hunt, fish, run, participate in Caro Exchange Club — he came close to leaving in 1988.
At the time, the Tuscola County Sheriff’s Department laid off deputies as a result of what Skrent called a “budget crisis.” He was close to going to work for the Lapeer County Sheriff’s Department.
“Two days before they called me back to work here, Lapeer called me and told me I could go to work there,” he said. “I had to weigh my options…I turned (Lapeer) down and the rest is history.”
In the early 2000s, Skrent worked for six years as a detective with the Tuscola County Sheriff’s Department. He was named undersheriff when Teschendorf was elected sheriff eight years ago.
Skrent said he wanted to be undersheriff to tackle a new challenge.
“You get stagnant if you stay in the same position,” he said. “It’s something totally different from being detective, that’s for sure.
“I was there long enough where I didn’t want to mess with the drunk on the street, or ruin a vacation because you have to come and testify in court,” he said, adding that even after being named undersheriff, he didn’t have plans to become sheriff.
As undersheriff, Skrent said he learned on the job about duties such as overseeing contracts, and managing the department budget.
“I didn’t know how much everything cost,” he said. “No one ever said ‘This is how much a flashlight costs.’”
The role also had Skrent serving as the primary public information officer, oftentimes the point-of-contact for media within the department, and doing things like creating the department’s first Facebook page to increase community outreach.
Skrent said he also has been the department’s first undersheriff to be reachable via mobile phone outside of “normal” work hours, and set up the first system for residents to receive text alerts about emergencies from the department.
The rest of his time, he said, is “putting out fires” with regard to operations of the department.
“I’m sure it’s like anywhere else…people getting along, ‘I have this issue, I have that issue,’” he said. “(Undersheriff) is a human resources type position, too.”
Skrent said he’s been there for many changes the Tuscola County Sheriff’s Department has seen over the years.
“It was larger when I started,” he said. “We had more people, more employees on the road.”
There have been changes in awareness on the part of citizens.
“I think things were just as violent,” he said. “But they weren’t really reported as much.”
For example, he said fights were regular occurrences at the former version of Club 24 (a new Club 24 recently opened as a sports bar and restaurant) and North Grove Bar near M-46 and M-24.
The county also would see as many as 35 accident fatalities annually, he said.
“There was a fatal (accident) going on all of the time,” Skrent said.
Technologically speaking, the Tuscola County Sheriff’s Department has come a long way. The department was among the first in Michigan to use in-car cameras and radar detectors. There are also laptop computers, in-car modems, body cameras, tasers, and more.
“There are so many more things you have to have now than you used to,” Skrent said. “When I started, you had a notebook and a five-cell (battery) flashlight.”
For fatal accidents, reports used to be completed quickly.
“You never had to do what you have to do now,” he said. “We didn’t have an accident reconstruction team. You’d go out and write a report in about an hour and you were done.
“Now, a fatal accident is just like a homicide in that it takes a lot longer,” he said.
When asked what the hardest part of his job with the department has been, Skrent has an answer immediately.
“I can remember every single death message I had to deliver to anybody like it was yesterday,” he said, referring to having to deliver news of an unexpected death to loved ones.
He’s done it 10 times.
“I can remember the weather,” he said. “Of course, I can remember their reaction, what happened afterwards…if anything causes PTSD, it’s doing something like that. It’s terrible.
“I mean, you’ve totally ruined their life…and there’s no easy way to give it,” Skrent said. “You don’t want to do it by phone. So you’re standing there in the middle of the night, it’s 3 a.m., the house is all dark and you’re getting ready to knock on the door — all you want to do is run away.”
Throughout his career, Skrent said there is one regret that stands out in his mind.
It was at the scene of an accident on M-25 involving a woman and her daughter, about a week before Christmas one year. The mother was badly injured, receiving treatment in an ambulance. Skrent said he was trying to calm the little girl down.
“I said ‘Your mom’s going to be OK’,” Skrent said. “Well, two days before Christmas, I get a call that the mom died. To this day I regret telling the little girl that her mom was going to be OK.
“That was a bad Christmas.”
There are plenty of happy memories, too, he said.
Skrent has received two “life-saving” awards through the sheriff’s department.
One of the awards was for pulling a man out of a burning vehicle at the North Grove Bar. The other was for saving someone’s life using the Heimlich maneuver at Pizza Hut in Caro.
He also recalls two incidents in the last year where 3-year-olds had wandered off in both separate cases — and in both instances the toddlers involved were found.
“Those are a really good feeling,” Skrent said. “Everyone just gives high-fives.”
Skrent said all his experiences have prepared him for his next job, as sheriff of Tuscola County.
“I reached a point where I said ‘I’d like to try it for four years,’” Skrent said. “That would complete my tenure here, pretty much in every aspect of the job.”
Skrent said he plans to continue his involvement with the budgeting process — for the first year, at least — and will continue to interact with the media and public.
His top priorities are “safety of the officers, and safety of the public.”
“That’s my goal — nobody gets hurt on my watch at work,” he said.
Skrent said he will continue working to mitigate that possibility by providing officers with the best possible equipment and training.
“I don’t think the public can be safe unless an officer feels safe,” Skrent said.
Other goals Skrent said he has are to get the department a tracking dog. Currently, the department has to rely on help from the Michigan State Police.
He also wants to continue trying to find a solution to improving the county jail, with hopes of eventually having enough room to provide inmates with counseling and rehabilitation services so they work to stay out of jail.
“I don’t want them coming back, but right now it’s like a 70 percent recidivism rate for us,” Skrent said. “So anything we can do to get inmates on the right track ultimately saves taxpayers money in the long run.”
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at email@example.com