Ten weeks after the findings of an investigation into allegations of misconduct against Purcellville Police Chief Cynthia McAlister revealed no wrongdoing, the town will spend $235,300 to get operations back on track.
The Town Council on Tuesday night voted to approve the spending to improve the department, as recommended by the investigation report that was compiled by Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP and retired police chief Timothy Longo. The town will hire a deputy chief, an operations commander and an accreditation manager, purchase new equipment and audit the department. The money will be transferred from the town’s unassigned reserve fund, which currently holds $5.2 million.
“This is one of the top priorities of the administration,” said Town Manager David Mekarski. “The police department has a new vibe and the morale is going through the roof.”
The most important staffing addition will be to hire a deputy chief to support McAlister and establish a more clear succession of command. McAlister said that she is unable to effectively manage the department without a deputy who can consistently work “shoulder-to-shoulder” with officers. “You really have to have that other layer that’s in there closer to where the officers are working,” she said.
McAlister said that a recruitment package would be advertised next week and remain active for about six weeks before an “in-depth” selection process begins. She said the deputy chief should be on staff by mid-January. “It is going to be a long process to bring them on,” she said.
While $40,000 will be needed to fund the role until the current fiscal year ends on June 30, 2019, the deputy chief will be paid around $90,000 annually.
As the town looks to hire a permanent deputy chief, Dianne Gittins, who retired in April as the City of Alexandria’s deputy police chief, will act as interim deputy chief for the next six months and will be paid up to $45,000 during that time.
The town has also hired Emily Johnson as its part-time accreditation manager to ensure that the department remains in compliance with the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission accreditation standards and to update General Orders Manual as needed. She acted in that same role throughout 2017. Johnson is being paid $35,000 through the end of the current fiscal year.
“I think having a solid knowledgeable accreditation manager is what keeps us out of hot water,” McAlister said.
The town will also spend $30,000 to pay three consultants from the Virginia Association of the Chiefs of Police to review the department’s General Orders Manual and to implement policy changes.
Although July’s report recommended that the department relocate its offices to a more secure and functional location, staff members said that won’t be practical for at least the next three years. A study is underway to determine whether the department should move into an existing building or have a new office built.
For the time being, the department will rearrange cubicles to allow officers to share space and to make room for a $3,200 purchase of 12 secure lockers that will safely store ballistic vests and weapons.
McAlister said that while the Hirst Road headquarters is secure, officers currently hang their vests over chairs, which isn’t ideal when officers lead office tours. “We would like to make sure that we have everything safely stored away, and neatly as well,” she said.
To address the report’s finding that there was a “cycle of complacency and mediocrity within the department,” the town will spend $18,900 to purchase the Annual Law Enforcement Policy Manual and Daily Training Bulletins from Lexipol, a policy management software designed for public safety, to reinforce the department’s policies and aid refresher training. The town will spend $8,442 for subsequent annual subscriptions to the bulletins.
The town will also spend $63,200 to purchase 16,000 rounds of ammunition, which is a three-year supply for active officers, training, weapons qualifying sessions and cadets at the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy.
Beginning in fiscal year 2022, the town will need to spend $22,000 on ammunition in each year.
Corp. Paul Kakol said that the ammunition order needs to be placed as soon as possible because it could take up to nine months to arrive. “We need to have this ammunition on hand,” he said.
The town expects the increased costs to be somewhat offset through traffic ticket fines and savings from staff turnover in the department.
Mayor Kwasi Fraser said that the $235,300 needs to be put into perspective, noting that the police department will use it to protect the town’s more than $125 million in assets.
“That [$235,000] is just 0.18 percent,” he said. “I think it’s worth that investment.”