After weeks of racially charged community tension triggered by the clandestine distribution of Ku Klux Klan recruitment fliers, the Leesburg Police Department and the Loudoun County NAACP are renewing a formal partnership that was first inked 12 years ago.
The Town Council was briefed on the program Monday night. While some council members questioned whether a formal agreement was necessary and raised concerns that it would lead to meddling in police operations, Chief Gregory Brown said he welcomed increased interaction with the organization.
The Town Council on Tuesday was expected to endorse the Memorandum of Understanding that is designed to “maintain and expand effective police/community relations, and to ensure fair and impartial delivery of police services” by promoting mutual trust, cooperation and communication, according to a staff report.
Brown said that such agreements are not unusual and affirm many of the goals of his department and community policing, in general. “A lot of jurisdictions have been doing this for years,” he told the council.
That list already includes Leesburg, although Town Manager Kaj Dentler said he didn’t know about it until 2014. That’s when he became aware of a 2006 agreement signed by former Police Chief Joseph Price and former Loudoun NAACP President Reginal A. Early. That document also was signed by Timothy J. Johnson, representing the U.S. Department of Justice. Town leaders said DOJ was not involved for any specific reason or incident, but because it had developed the model program.
The agreement lists 21 action steps to be undertaken by the town government, Police Department and NAACP. Among those are at least twice yearly meetings between the police chief and the NAACP president and at least annual meetings with the mayor, town manager and NAACP president. The three parties also will join forces for community forums and youth outreach programs, and increase their interactions with the town’s Diversity Commission.
Two items on the town’s commitment list are to consider financial incentives for police officers to live in town and continue to provide money to buy in-car and body-worn cameras for the department. Brown said that nine of the town’s 77 sworn officers live within town limits. Housing affordability is the key barrier, he said.
On the NAACP side, the organization will help with recruiting efforts by helping to increase the pool of police officer candidates.
While the agency has been successful in integrating more women into its workforce, recruiting Latino and black officers have proven more challenging, Brown said. He attributed that difficulty, in large part, to the very stringent hiring standards. Youthful transgressions and family circumstances can play a part in excluding candidates. The department is working to fill 10 vacant positions and Brown told the council about a recent recruitment pool of 187 applicants. Of those, 81 responded to interview offers, 47 showed up and 14 of those met the basic standards. From there, two took polygraph tests and neither one passed—resulting in zero hires from that group.
Councilman Tom Dunn ask the most questions about the agreement during Monday’s work session, saying he was worried about having politicians getting involved in the day-to-day operations of the police department. He also questioned whether the agreement was needed in light of the fact that the agency was already doing that work and the 2006 document remained in effect.
On Tuesday, Dunn publicly questioned the commitment of the NAACP leadership to a collaboration with the town. Specifically, the councilman criticized its current president, Phillip Thompson, who had sent him emails that Dunn described as “bigoted.” Dunn was ruled out of order by Mayor Kelly Burk when he attempted to read the emails during the MOU debate, but later presented them during the period of the meeting designed for council member comments. [See video].
Dunn cast the lone vote against approving the new agreement.
Repeatedly during the council’s debate, Brown said he welcomed the opportunity to formalize relations with the organization and the spell out goals. “It holds all parties accountable,” he said. Brown also said he would encourage closer working relationships with other community groups.
Councilman Ron Campbell said updating the formal agreement was important and that the partnership would send a positive message to the community.
Campbell was one of three council members—with Mayor Kelly Burk and Marty Martinez—who said they were members of the Loudoun NAACP and who stressed that the organization is very diverse—not just representing black residents, but also with many Latino and Muslim members.