It was an amicable environment Monday night, as the members of a joint town/county committee formed to study efficiencies between their two public safety agencies agreed their work was done.
However, a budget-time battle likely again awaits over Loudoun County and the Town of Leesburg’s arrangement for the funding of school resource officers in town schools.
In a brief session Monday, committee members voted unanimously to dissolve the panel at only its second meeting. Leesburg Town Manager Kaj Dentler had reported to council members last week that the most areas the town had hoped to find efficiencies between the Leesburg Police Department and Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office had been resolved.
“This has been a good exercise in communication and showed us how well the agencies have been working together,” Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) said Monday. “And we were able to squeeze out a few more efficiencies.”
Those efficiencies included allowing the town police force to use the Sheriff’s Office planned new gun range, saving the town a significant amount in capital costs, and sharing resources for traffic enforcement and shoplifting prevention at Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets.
The one area where the town and county appear likely to continue to agree to disagree is over school resource officer funding. Currently, the county pays 70 percent of the cost for posting officers in Leesburg’s middle and high schools, but town leaders have pressed for the county to pay the entire cost. County supervisors have said they would contribute 100 percent funding, if and only if the schools are staffed with sheriff’s deputies instead of town police officers. Town Council members have said they prefer having town police officers to remain as the school’s resource officers.
Leaders in both the town and county public safety agencies have said there is a benefit to local officers having a presence in the schools, and it goes toward the success of community policing as a whole.
“It’s about partnerships and the relationships we build with the kids,” Leesburg Police Deputy Chief Vanessa Grigsby said. “It would be to our detriment if we weren’t in the schools.”
And Leesburg’s soon-to-be police chief agreed. Gregory Brown, who will be sworn in as Leesburg’s new police chief at month’s end, sat in the audience during Monday evening’s meeting at the County Government Center. He said he saw three areas where there was a benefit to having town police officers remain in town schools: community outreach; information and intelligence; and, even, future recruitment efforts. Brown said that many kids look up to the resource officers in their schools and may use their example as an impetus in pursuing a career in law enforcement down the road.
The debate is expected to continue during next spring’s budget work. Council members Katie Sheldon Hammler and Tom Dunn, the two council members representing Leesburg on the committee, asked for a better rundown of the percentage of time the resource officers spend in the schools in a given year, with officers reassigned to other duties, or taking training or their paid vacation time, when school is not in session.
Dunn said a breakdown of the time the assigned officers spend doing SRO duties may be an opening point for talking about changing the percentage the county contributes.
“Everyone agrees the top priority is safety,” he said, “but we also have a responsibility as far as taxpayer dollars go.”