Editorial: Ask the Question Again

As the rank and file members of the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office call attention to the large-scale restructuring of the agency’s personnel, they acknowledge that the sitting sheriff has full authority to hire, fire and reassign workers as he pleases.

That is the nature of working for a constitutional officer in Virginia.

If he chose to do so, Mike Chapman wouldn’t be the first Loudoun sheriff to ship a tenured administrator off to nightshift road patrol or to the Siberia of the Adult Detention Center after some political slight—real or imagined. It’s a long-standing, post-election tradition in Loudoun County and elsewhere. It’s also perfectly legal, as long as the actions are not motivated by race, color, religion, sex or national origin—virtually the only workforce prohibition the state code lays out for constitutional officers.

The agency’s recent personnel shuffle does raise questions, however. Is that the best way to run one of the commonwealth’s largest law enforcement agencies? Is it the best environment to attract and retain top talent? Are the agency’s personnel being deployed in such a way as to make the best use of their training and experience?

And this one: Is it time for Loudoun County to establish a police force?

That last question got serious consideration by the Government Reform Commission established by the newly elected all-Republican Board of Supervisors four years ago. The panel ultimately punted on the prospect, with its members unwilling to undermine their newly elected Republican sheriff. It was a mistake not to lay the groundwork for a transition to a police force in 2012. Chapman could have led the effort and, very likely, stepped in to the role of Loudoun’s first police chief.

It should not be a bragging point that Loudoun has the largest sheriff’s office in the commonwealth; it should be a point of concern. Other Virginia counties of Loudoun’s size—and many smaller—have already made transitions to police departments that operate under the auspices of the general county government. The police chief would be a department head subject to daily accountability (rather than the every-four-years variety) and the officers would be subject to the disciplinary rules—and workplace protections—that apply to other government employees. There would still be an elected sheriff and a Sheriff’s Office to manage the jail and provide court security.

The new Board of Supervisors should again examine the merits of establishing a police department, possibly as part of a broader study of the local government structure that could best serve a county expected to surpass the 400,000 population threshold during its term. Taking up the topic shouldn’t be viewed as an attack on the current sheriff or the management of his agency, but simply as a commitment to ensure taxpayers are getting the best service possible from their government.

3 thoughts on “Editorial: Ask the Question Again

  • 2016-04-25 at 3:55 pm

    Accountability seems to be what many hang on for going or not going to a PD. I would be okay with Loudoun County continuing with a Sheriff’s Office if I believed those who vote actually are paying any attention and are engaged. It is a huge problem when the messaging is crafted and controlled by one, and that is how voters are supposed to hold someone accountable? In my opinion the current trend has been a hyper politicization of public safety that has never been seen before in Loudoun. When someone finds unfavorable statistics that the Sheriff’s Office have published and display it for others to see, then there is silence or just no comment. Is that accountability? I only hope that BoS get accurate and detailed statistics for their areas, but I guess it doesn’t matter because if the BoS do get numbers that don’t reflect too favorably for one political figurehead, then what does it matter? They can’t do anything and the voters don’t know any better. Is this really where we are as a county? Another point is the committee that reviewed for change took a presentation from the Sheriff about the costs of changing. Let us try to figure out how the Sheriff sided with whether to go to a PD or not…..of course, it was not financially responsible to do so. I did read that one of the things considered was the per 1000 ratio of law enforcement to residents, and from what I read over 500 sworn were used for the Loudoun ratio. That would be fine but he was using the jail, courts and civil process for a total to get his ratio that would then be more in line with other PDs in the area. The only problem is that using all of those personnel is not accurate for the formula. Other PDs don’t use jail staffing for their ratio, the use investigations to patrol. Members of the committee just took it for what it was worth and as accurate. So who is really getting played here? In my opinion it is all of us and that includes supporters because I don’t think they know any better. Time for a change, accountability and some protections for front line personnel. The laws governing a Sheriff seem to be from the 19th century and are a bit outdated. I think the Sheriff promotes himself as cutting edge and bringing the LCSO into the 21st century, well, lets bring public safety as a whole into the 21st century. Go PD!!

  • 2016-04-21 at 5:01 pm

    I should have read this editorial first. I just posted to the article what the editor states in the opening. It is the Sheriff’s prerogative to do as he pleases.

    But I disagree with a police force. Why would the voting public want to give up its decision making authority? IMHO, we get so much more discussion regarding LCSO because we have an elected sheriff. If it is a police force, I see many issues not seeing the light of day, and I think the sheriff is much more engaged with the public because he is elected. Take that away, and you will get other problems.

    And ask yourself this: if we had a police force would former supervisor Shawn Williams get arrested? A sheriff can address such serious legal matters with Board members because he does not report to the Board of Supervisors. Would a police chief be willing to arrest a sitting BoS member when he knows the remaining members can get rid of him, especially if they are up to some no-good themselves?

    • 2016-04-23 at 10:28 am

      I believe that a police department would allow for continuous accountability, whereas a sheriff’s office only allows for accountability once every four years. The sheriff alone decides what information he will share with the public/media, and due to his unchecked ability to fire and transfer employees, the employees are unlikely to come forward with any internal problems that need to be addressed. It amazes me when people ask deputies what they think of their boss when they certainly are not at liberty to give an honest answer.

      Some deputies even make political campaign contributions to the boss, which represents a clear conflict of interest in itself. (And it’s unclear as to whether they truly support the sheriff or if they’re placing a bet to advance/maintain their own careers.) It would be nice to have a sheriff that would rise above this sort of thing, or better yet, have a police chief that is not in the difficult position of accepting money from dubious sources to advance his political campaign.

      I appreciate your argument about police officers being afraid of arresting a board members while a sheriff’s deputy would not. What if you have a sheriff that is committing crimes? (Case in point, the Anne Arundel County Sheriff who was recently arrested by police officers for allegedly assaulting his wife.) The sheriff would have absolute authority over deputies responding to his emergency, unlike the board member who has indirect authority over the police department – and shares that responsibility with eight other elected officials who are unlikely to support a spousal abuse cover-up.

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