Editorial: Building a Model Force

Minutes after taking the oath of office as Leesburg’s new police chief, Gregory S. Brown defined the role of police in a context rarely heard in an era of increasing tensions nationally.

He called them peace officers.

That is exactly the right foundation upon which to build a department that does more than view “community policing” as buzz words that must be evoked periodically. To its credit, the Leesburg department has been at the forefront of the movement, with the past two police chiefs touting their commitment to that law enforcement philosophy.

As with any government agency, there’s more that can be done; Brown and his leadership team recognize that.

They’ll have the opportunity to shape the department right away as they work to fill more than a dozen vacant officer positions. Getting the right people in place is important. So will be the Town Council’s commitment to provide the department the resources it needs to successfully implement the program. Cutting corners at budget time undermines the community’s ability to recoup on the investment in community policing, which requires officers to spend time getting to know the residents and business owners in the town’s neighborhoods.

That proactive work—which pays off with crime prevention and, often, quicker crime solving—may rub against the grain of traditionalists who measure police performance in ticket counts and arrest stats, but that’s an assessment method that makes little sense when the goal is to reduce crime.

In localities across the country, debates over the best approach to law enforcement are driven by friction between the residents and their police forces—frictions rooted in some blend of distrust, violence, racism and incompetence. That has not been the case in Leesburg.

With the support of the residents and town leaders, Chief Brown and his department of peace officers can continue to build a force worthy of serving as a model to help address those failings.

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