Sheriff’s Office Shake Up: Police union claims transfers were politically motivated

A massive reorganization within Sheriff Michael Chapman’s department has created what police advocates are calling an atmosphere of fear and retaliation in the state’s largest sheriff’s office.

Chapman, who was elected to a second term last November, said the changes resulted from a meeting with his seven-member executive team which includes his two lieutenant colonels and the heads of all five divisions in the department.

“We had a retreat for a couple of days to kind of go over how we can better serve the community,” Chapman said. “How we can better align our staff to meet the agency to put the right people in the right place.”

However, the executive director of the Police Benevolent Association, which declined to endorse Chapman’s re-election bid, said many of the personnel changes appear to be retaliation against people who did not support him in the election.

“We can’t say for sure, but certainly the appearance is that it’s retaliation against political activity and activity within the Police Benevolent Association,” said PBA Executive Director Sean McGowan.

The PBA is a union of law enforcement officers offering members legal and disciplinary representation and accidental death benefits. The Virginia chapter also lobbies in the General Assembly. McGowan said it has about 4,000 members across Virginia, and 349 members in the Loudoun sheriff’s office.

Sheriff Michael Chapman, alongside Lt. Cols. Robert Buckman and Mark Poland, speaks to the Board of Supervisors at a budget work session March 7. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)
Sheriff Michael Chapman, alongside Lt. Cols. Robert Buckman and Mark Poland, speaks to the Board of Supervisors at a budget work session March 7. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

The sheriff’s office staff changes were announced in a pair of memos circulated through the department. Loudoun Now initially attempted to obtain the memos through a Freedom of Information Act request, but the sheriff’s office and the office of County Attorney Leo Rogers declined to release them. The two offices cited an exemption in FOIA law that allows—but does not require—the sheriff’s office to withhold some personnel records.

The memos, obtained through other sources, show that, of the Loudoun County Sheriff Department’s 541 sworn officers, 85 have been transferred or promoted. Those changes came after Chapman released five senior personnel who were not resworn in December.

“I can tell you, in about 18 years of law enforcement, I’ve never seen that many moves,” said Joe Woloszyn, president of the PBA’s Fairfax chapter.

Among those reassigned by Chapman were the president and senior vice president of the PBA’s Loudoun chapter.

Loudoun PBA President Detective Sean Dikeman was transferred from automotive theft investigations to nighttime field operations. Senior Vice President Sergeant Jay Conner—who was given a Commendation Award during the sheriff’s sixth annual Awards and Recognition Ceremony on Feb. 19, a week before the memo announcing his transfer—was moved from robbery/homicide investigations to the Adult Detention Center. Both declined to comment for this article.

Other transfers were similarly stark. One sergeant was transferred from the Rapid Response Unit—Loudoun’s SWAT team—to nighttime field operations. Sergeant Jeffery Hunt, a Loudoun PBA board member, was transferred from investigating financial crimes to daytime field operations.

The more recent shakeup follows the release of senior officers in December, including a top administrator, ranked second only to the sheriff, and the office’s lead major crimes investigator, who will be a key witness in a major murder trial scheduled for next month.

That investigator supported Chapman’s opponent in the Republican party’s nomination process and was let go Dec. 31. Both the administrator and investigator also declined to comment for this article. Other current and former employees of the office have also declined to go on the record, citing fears of retaliation.

In an interview Tuesday, Chapman said mixing up career tracks and cross-training personnel improves the department as a whole.

“A lot of folks think if you get one assignment, then you’re supposed to have it for a career,” Chapman said. “It’s not advantageous in a lot of ways. They may get very proficient in that area, but they kind of lose perspective of the agency as a whole. You become more valuable when you understand the agency as a whole, rather than one element of the agency.”

He denies that any of the moves were for political reasons or even having knowledge which of his staff members hold PBA memberships.

“I don’t know—other than maybe a couple people—I don’t even know who’s on that,” Chapman said. “I really don’t. I don’t keep up with that.”

“I don’t buy the argument that it’s for training purposes,” McGowan said. “All of these guys were functioning at a high level in specialized jobs, and had been trained. Pulling them out of these specialized positions seems to me to be counterproductive, and now the taxpayer’s going to have to foot the bill for training the new people.”

LCSO officers investigate the scene where plastic explosives were found on a school bus Wednesday, March 30. The explosive was later determined to have been left there by the CIA during a training exercise. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)
LCSO officers investigate the scene where plastic explosives were found on a school bus Wednesday, March 30. The explosive was later determined to have been left there by the CIA during a training exercise. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

Chapman pointed out that law enforcement officers are already required to complete 40 hours of in-service training every two years to maintain their certification with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. Retraining for the new positions, he pointed out, can count toward those hours.

He also said bringing officers in new departments not only improves those officers—it improves those departments.

“They actually bring that experience with them where they go next,” Chapman said. “For example, if you’ve been an investigator for, say, 15 years, you’re going to bring that knowledge with you.”

Sheriff’s Office Public Information Office Kraig Troxell highlighted new training that Chapman initiated in his administration, including an 80-hour online ethical leadership class and new supervisor orientation.

McGowan rejects that logic.

“You won’t get anybody’s intention until you point it out for what it is, which is, by these transfers, he’s taking that institutional knowledge and expertise out of those positions for no reason, and he’s having a direct impact on public safety,” McGowan said. “That’s what it boils down to. If you want to pay a deputy to transport prisoners at $110,000 a year, that’s fine, but don’t fool yourself that you’re doing it for efficiency.”

“If somebody’s coming in brand new, you’re not really giving them a chance to learn,” said Woloszyn, president of the PBA’s Fairfax chapter. “You’re just sort of putting them in the hot seat, and that doesn’t benefit anyone.”

As sheriff, Chapman has broad authority to transfer, promote, or dismiss deputies at-will. A clause in Virginia state code specifically excludes sheriff’s offices from the protections afforded under the Law-Enforcement Officers Procedural Guarantee Act. That act provides minimum rights for law enforcement officers across the state who are disciplined, demoted, suspended, or transferred as punishment. The PBA has lobbied against that clause in the past.

“They’re at-will employees, so this is kind of the way it works with constitutional officers,” Chapman said, adding that other constitutional officers have also released employees at the start of a new term, and that “as the organizational leaders, I have the right to put people in the position where I think they’re going to perform best for the agency and for the citizens, and that’s what’s paramount to me.”

Chapman said he advocates for his deputies, pointing to a retirement multiplier, extra overtime pay, and raises for deputies during his administration.

The sheriff’s Memorandum of Understanding with the county government excludes deputies from the county grievance procedures and gives the sheriff ultimate discretion in his office’s workplace appeals.

McGowan says the Virginia code section points to a good reason to replace sheriffs, who are elected, with police chiefs, who are hired by county government.

“It appears that anybody who participated in the political process or attended any political events were penalized for doing so,” McGowan said. “Chapman was an endorsed candidate when he ran against Simpson the first time, and we endorsed him, and this is exactly the type of thing in that endorsement process that he promised us he was not going to do.”

12 thoughts on “Sheriff’s Office Shake Up: Police union claims transfers were politically motivated

  • 2016-04-25 at 10:27 pm

    Well nobody has ever said that this political head is dumb. Of course he has the right to do what he chooses with personnel and that is what it is, but in my opinion it seems as though this has been taken to a whole new level. Some say that the PBA is a union, unfortunately Virginia is a right to work state and there are not any unions. It is my understanding that it is an association that allows those in the profession to have a voice and venue to address or seek out limited remedies that are both for workers and for the profession as a whole. Those that say that people should expect to be let go because they join a association, and it is not one that the political head likes, then they need to have jobs taken from them..well these people are truly something. So if anyone else joined an association that was work related, not unethical, immoral or conducting any illegal act, then they should be dismissed? This is America right? I think from posts I’ve read from those who work there or are family members or who have worked there, that the environment is less than cohesive.
    The fact that some would say or equate some in a department this size, (larger than 5 for that matter) and to expect everyone to vote for one person is unrealistic, and to then seek them out or to judge them because they voted or supported someone else means that they are somehow a saboteur, is a huge leap and in my opinion reeks of paranoia and insecurity. I think a leader should encourage alternate views in leadership roles surrounding the leader. If all you have is “yes men and women”then it is doomed and the environment suffers. So he can hide all he wants behind “its good for the agency” but the damage appears to have been done. I think this article only further solidifies the theory that there is a problem. As others have said, there is a cost to each and every act and the efficiency does suffer, and for what? Political payback? Of course he would never admit to that and it is easy to just hide. I mean not swearing in about two dozen so far and giving no explanation says it all. He does it, because he can. Control,control control. No Sheriff before him (or at least in the last 30 years) that I am aware of had ever done this.
    I agree that those in his appointed inner circle (cabinet if you will) should be at will employees, but for the front line personnel and supervisors there should be protections. Whatever happened to mentoring and guiding employees toward the vision of its leader. Nah, just get rid of people. Time for a PD and taking out most of the politics in public safety.

  • 2016-04-24 at 11:39 am

    This story is slanted with an apparent agenda typically adopted by the pitiful Loudoun Times Mirror and/or those who feel a complete change in the government structure in Loudoun, needed to allow a Police Department, is good. Sad to see LN going down this path and surprised Ms. Nadler would allow her new reporter to sensationalize in this manner.

    Had the reporter done his homework and not fallen pray to the slant from a “union” the story would have been much different–or not a story at all.

    The PBA is a “police” union which has very little to no power or influence when it comes to a Sheriff’s Office. There are sheriff’s associations and unions which represent deputies with much greater insight, membership and recourses. But two good-ol-boy LCSO deputies ran for top office in this police union, and, in near conflict with their positions, were elected as President and VP. The conflict comes as the PBA does not support sheriff’s offices, they support full service “police departments” which are under the control of a County Executive, Board or Mayor. In Loudoun, we do not have a County Executive, Mayor and the Board can barely handle 30% of the budget and decisions (70% goes to the School Board). So, these two PBA officers, and the PBA, continually support and pitch a complete restructuring of Loudoun’s government (which will never occur). Next, these PBA officers, support and pitch a “police” code of conduct, opposed to their own Sheriff’s code. Finally, they absolutely undermine working in the LCSO by continually supporting and pitching dismantling the LCSO in favor of a police department.

    Take it a step further and follow the money. The LCSO is 750 staff members strong–the largest full service sheriff’s office in VA. The local PBA gains dues, support, contributions and power if there is a switch to a county police department.

    On the political front–the PBA has absolutely no influence whatsoever. In 2011 they thought they could get “in” with the Sheriff, endorsing Chapman. He won with over 60%. In 2015, the PBA was upset they couldn’t “control” Chapman, so they did not endorse–Chapman won with over 60%.

    So, this story’s slant is inspired by two LCSO deputies who work within the PBA in complete conflict and when their direct supervisors, the supervisors’ supervisor and even a level higher (without the Sheriff yet being involved), decide these two slackers are moved into positions better suited for their skills, attitude and work ethic… we all of a sudden have a story that the moves were politically motivated. Wake up LN.

    And, instead of going to any of the “Sheriff’s” associations or unions in Virginia or elsewhere–the reporter goes to yet another “police” union in Fairfax, where there is a full service PD, for back up comment. Cheap reporting LN.

    What else did the article lack? These internal moves had the complete and uniform buy-in by all top brass. No interviews with any brass. There were no demotions, just lateral transfers and promotions–no interviews with those happy, proud or even those promoted.

    Come on LN—we thought you were better than this and even if your reporter isn’t, the editors should be.

    Worth mentioning, these whiners are slapping others in the fact, who proudly do the same job, day in and out.

    Let us not forget about the “tweet.” Managing Editor Danielle Nadler tweets on her personal account, after this ridiculous slanted article, that many LCSO deputies were “demoted.” Obviously she drank the cool-aid bought by her reporter. Sad. Apparently that tweet was corrected quickly as nobody was actually demoted, but it shows that LN is creeping down the LTM we-don’t-report-facts rabbit hole. Up next, LN will be printing corrections, apologies and rebuttal letters like LTM.

    On a separate but connected note—Publisher Norm Styer writes an editorial saying the Loudoun Government Reform Commission, when considering transitioning to a PD “[ ] ultimately punted on the prospect, with its members unwilling to undermine their newly elected Republican sheriff.” Mr. Styer, I suggest you read the thorough and lengthy studies, transcripts and findings of the Reform Commission and do your homework before writing such an editorial–or just sell LN to LTM since you seem to be heading down the same editorial path.

  • 2016-04-23 at 9:59 pm

    SlickRick, fair points. I have no issues with these articles being published (reporting) and ideally, I would have preferred the sheriff to be fully open and honest about the reasons. Most officials worry that revealing political/morale reasons come off as unseemly but I believe they are legit in these cases. I think transferring high-level officers who are not fully onboard with the vision of the department warrants removing them from at least leadership position where they can negatively influence the rank and file. Am I wrong?

    I might add that depending on who is elected President, most if not all political appointees (high-level leaders) in the national agencies will be replaced. Would you say that therefore we are losing some of our best people? Would you say replacing these experienced appointees bears costs?

    I can also guarantee you that every 3 years, military members transfer positions. As they do, their knowledge and acquired skills for their most recent jobs are “wasted” as a new person must come up to speed. There is even an “up or out” policy in the military where if you are not promoted, you are generally forced to retire. Is this policy just a huge “waste” of taxpayer dollars? Has the military been doing this all wrong for the last 6+ decades? Or might rotating folks throughout the various verticals elicit new thinking and bring new perspectives? Might it allow more officers to develop the breadth of knowledge to replace senior leaders when called upon?

    I could be wrong but I don’t think I have special feelings for Chapman. I know that I sensed a good ol’ boy sheriff’s department when I moved here in 2004. I know that my interactions with the LCSO deputies at various levels over the last few years, however, have always been professional. And I know that senior folks within LCSO and even the county’s Commonwealth Attorney’s office instituted a smear campaign against Chapman right before the election. So until proven otherwise, I’m tending to believe the sheriff over Plowman (corrupt), Simpson/Speakman (lost their coup), and inside opposition. Prove me wrong if you disagree.

  • 2016-04-23 at 10:15 am

    Some of the commenters are amazing… According to some, who seem to align themselves with Republicans, disclosing information about fiscally reckless behavior by local government is a bad thing. Each one of the transfers mentioned in the article has a cost associated with it. Additionally, each one of the employees dismissed without any articulated justification has a a cost associated with it. When this amount is quantified, I’d bet that it will be more than every tax dollar that you and many of your friends send to Loudoun County this year. So, when you write those checks for the real estate tax on your home, and the personal property tax on your vehicles, just proudly tell yourself – this is all for you Sheriff Chapman, so you can dismiss and transfer employees as you see fit. After all that’s all within the authority of a Virginia Sheriff!

    A appreciate the comparison to all employees rowing in the same direction, don’t ask don’t tell, etc. I actually agree that if any of the employees refuse to carry out their duties as ordered in the transfer memo, they should be dealt with accordingly. Dereliction of duty should not be tolerated. However, I also agree with shedding light on government operations, particularly if there is any question about efficiency and/or waste. (Hopefully, the sheriff welcomes such an inquiry as well – it’s easy to defend good, fiscally sound decisions, right?) I’m surprised that some of you, who normally thirst for information obtained through FOI laws, seem to be so wrapped up in your feelings for Chapman that you want to stick your heads in the sand on the issues raised by the PBA.

  • 2016-04-22 at 12:00 pm

    Yep, I can look in the mirror and feel good because I’ve met the sheriff many times over and he seems like an honest broker and a straight shooter to me.

    Have also met his opponents during the last election and found them to be petulant and immature.

    Agree with SGP and David that its bizarre to assume that if you actively oppose your boss, he is supposed to roll over and thank you for your service. Employees need to support their boss – everyone needs to be rowing in the same direction. If they don’t want to, maybe they should find a different job.

    Also, the morale argument is pointless. There is no way to measure that, it’s opinion based, some people are whiners, and a vocal few can amplify small issues. That seemed to be what happened during last year’s election, which is why Chapman got over 60% of the vote.

  • 2016-04-22 at 10:29 am

    Verbatim – It’s obvious from this post and others that you have made in the past that you are in Chapman’s house drinking the kook-aid. Any manager would be familiar with the reasons stated in your post.

    You have to hand it to Chapman. He is the master when it comes to smoke and mirrors. As someone intimately familiar with the staff, their positions, skills and personal opinions, I find the Promotional and Transfer List a masterful piece of work. He is so cleaver as to conceal his personal retribution within the context of moving people for the good of the agency.

    We have heard a lot lately regarding domestic violence and the tragic consequences that have occurred recently in this county. I truly mean no disrespect with this next comment as it relates to victims of domestic violence but I feel the staff within the Sheriff’s Office are treated in a similar manner. It is through fear, intimidation and innuendo that Chapman manages this agency. You can use this article as proof. Not a single person would go on record, current or former employee. To my knowledge, I don’t believe those former employees involved in the email scandal have discussed it in an open forum.

    I certainly hope verbatim can look in the mirror at night and feel good about what he/she is supporting.

  • 2016-04-22 at 9:47 am

    The sheriff’s reasons for shaking things up are all valid reasons. But political ones are valid too. A leader who is not fully onboard with an organization’s vision is toxic. Two examples. If you have a star player (quarterback or NBA star) who is perceived as selfish, desiring a different system, or not fully supportive of their coach, the smart organizations trade and/or release that player. Despite their individual talent, teams work best when everyone is pulling in the same direction.

    But let’s look at an example in gov’t. For decades, the DoD had a policy of not allowing homosexuals to serve. Even under DADT, the policy was to separate members if their homosexuality became known. Many, if not most, DoD members and especially their leaders supported this policy. In fact, ones who enthusiastically opposed it could even be accused of pulling in a different direction (in reality, there was no adverse action against those who wanted to open the services up). Then, one day the DoD is directed to allow all to serve regardless of their orientation. Many leaders had strong reservations including top Marine officers. If those officers could not put their personal reservations aside and fully support the policy, they would be removed. Over a single issue. It’s as simple as that. All the folks complaining on this board would have no problem understanding that. But somehow they seem to think that LCSO members who actively worked against the sheriff’s policies and leadership are not toxic to this organization. I would say they are simplistic at best. But that’s too kind. These officers are playing the victim card after they lost a game of thrones.

    Probably none of us can really know what morale is really like inside the LCSO among the rank and file. But I have seen no evidence from these decisions or any other data that it is bad.

  • 2016-04-21 at 10:56 pm

    This article is slanted pretty heavily in assuming that these transfers were politically driven, with no evidence. There are many reasons to shuffle a staff around:

    – Create opportunities for new talent
    – Force underperformers to move on
    – Stimulate fresh thinking and ideas
    – Spread experience across the department
    – Prevent stagnation

    I’m sure some people weren’t happy about the changes, but I’m sure many others were.

    Maybe Chapman is just trying to improve his organization. And the deputies who don’t like it might be the same slugs who got used to a cushy job and were no longer doing good work.

    Glad the Sheriff is shaking things up.

  • 2016-04-21 at 9:27 pm

    Not sure what stories loudoun 235 is referencing. The past stories dealt with the termination of several employees after the election. But guess what, they too were politically motivated.

    Mr. Dickinson and LoCoWife both make valid and accurate comments. The bottom line is even if Chapman can make these changes, the negative impact it has on the morale of the agency is immeasurable. Although he will tell you otherwise, the morale of the agency has been steadily declining since he took office. Those that had is back during his first term have experienced his management style and have changed their opinions. Look no further than the departure of his #2 (Lt. Col.) and his former Director of Media Relations. The public would be appalled if they knew how Chapman treated one of his newly promoted supervisors once this person mentioned a personal conflict with the position.

    The citizens have spoken and the majority of those that voted chose Chapman. Unfortunately, it will be the citizens and the members of the agency that will have to pay the price.

    Board of Supervisors – Do the right thing. Take the politics out of local law enforcement. Establish a police department and put this political power play to rest. Don’t kid yourself. Loudoun County would draw the top talent, if a police department were created.

  • 2016-04-21 at 4:50 pm

    If the Sheriff has the authority, then he has the authority. Nobody likes it when their cheese gets moved, but that is a fact of life.

    But what I find incredulous is that people in the department that actively worked against the Sheriff’s re-election think there should be no repercussions. I can’t say if there were or there weren’t. But the rules of Power Play 101 dictate that, if you lose a power play, you can expect to lose your head. People should have thought about the repercussions before taking action.

  • 2016-04-21 at 3:07 pm

    Good article, although it is four months’ old. This has been reported on a few times already — when it happened in January.

  • 2016-04-21 at 10:58 am

    “Chapman said he advocates for his deputies, pointing to a retirement multiplier, extra overtime pay, and raises for deputies during his administration.” This is a lie. Mr. Chapman did not advocated for an increased retirement multiplier for the deputies. The PBA worked with the Board of Supervisors on obtaining the increased retirement multiple for the rest of the agency. The pay raises that were given were not obtained by Mr. Chapman either. This raises were through the County’s administration and were given to all county employees.

    “Chapman pointed out that law enforcement officers are already required to complete 40 hours of in-service training every two years to maintain their certification with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. Retraining for the new positions, he pointed out, can count toward those hours.” This is also false. The 40 hours of training are mandated by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services and the retraining of deputies to work on their newly assigned specialized positions, that can take an upwards of 12 months, does not apply towards the 40 hours. In the meantime, the citizens of the county are at risk as the deputies who were in the highly specialized trained positions are now writing speeding tickets instead of working on Federal tasks forces.

    As for Mr. Chapman stating he only knows of a couple of people in the PBA, he either does not know his deputies or he is lying. The PBA Board of Directors is public information and Mr. Chapman himself has meet with members of the PBA during his recent campaign. The campaign in which the PBA did not endorse him. Images of PBA political screening panel members and the candidates who were endorsed are available on numerous public websites.

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