Letter: Tanya Matthews, Purcellville

Editor:  The April 21 editorial in Loudoun Now argued for reconsideration of separating our Sheriff’s Office into a Board of Supervisors-managed police department handling law enforcement, and an elected sheriff limited to managing court matters and the county jail.

As co-chair of Loudoun County’s Government Reform Commission (GRC) subcommittee that studied this issue in depth and reported its recommendations to the Board of Supervisors in November 2012, I am writing to correct Loudoun Now’s erroneous characterization of the GRC’s efforts and to re-state the case against making this change. Referring to the GRC, the editorial stated that “the panel ultimately punted on the prospect [of a separate police department], with its members unwilling to undermine their newly elected Republican Sheriff.” That’s not true.

As with other substantive issues considered by the GRC over its eighteen-month life span, we came to the issue of law enforcement with an open mind. We visited with neighboring jurisdictions, interviewed many key people from elected officials to rank and file police officers in nearby counties, visited several police departments and sheriff’s offices, and read the laws involving combined versus separated law enforcement entities. We spent months analyzing these two different approaches to law enforcement. Our ultimate finding was that turning law enforcement over to a board-appointed police chief would add unnecessary and undesirable distance between the citizens of Loudoun County and their elected law enforcement leader.

Then there’s efficiency and cost.  Assumptions can vary, but there is little doubt that operating a police department for law enforcement and a separate Sheriff’s Office for our jail and courts would be less coordinated and more expensive—a cost that would be borne by local taxpayers. Our subcommittee simply did not find enough advantages to recommend the change.

Changing the structure of the Sheriff’s Office also means opening the door to changing the form of government in Loudoun County–from the so-called “traditional” model to something else that would have to be approved by the Virginia General Assembly. That could be an Urban County Executive model like our neighbors in Fairfax County, who have not only separated the sheriff and police chief, but also operate with the tax assessment, collection, investments and other financial functions under the Fairfax County executive and Board of Supervisors. In Loudoun, we manage those functions through the offices of our elected Treasurer and Commission of Revenue. Further, that chief staff executive in Fairfax has more authority and autonomy than does our corresponding Loudoun County Administrator. Again, this is less accountable to the citizens than what we have in Loudoun today.

Finally, this Sheriff’s Office has documented remarkable success over the past four years in improving law enforcement, dealing with major crimes and threats, enhancing training and professionalism, and gaining the public’s trust. In the last unbiased survey by the University of Virginia, the Loudoun Sheriff’s Office earned a rating of 91 percent in citizen satisfaction.

Please correct the public record. We did not “punt.”

Tanya Matthews, Purcellville

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