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.