Loudoun Sheriff’s Office Demands $2K for Document Other Departments Put Online for Free

A Freedom of Information Act Request for the General Orders governing Loudoun deputies has been met with a $1970.80 demand—for a document police departments across the region post online or provide for free.

Police departments in Alexandria, Fairfax, Prince William, Washington, D.C., and many departments in Maryland, post their General Orders online. Often more than a thousand pages long, they outline the department’s policies and procedures, covering everything from administration, to discipline, to investigations or what is expected when initiating a traffic stop. Likewise, Loudoun’s three police departments make their General Orders freely available upon request.

In January, a Fairfax County resident requested the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office to post its General Orders online, citing the practice of police departments in the region. He was challenged to verify that he is a Virginia resident and was told that releasing Loudoun’s General Orders would take 40 hours of staff time and cost him almost $2,000. He cancelled his request, and the General Orders remain locked up.

Loudoun’s three police departments—Leesburg, Purcellville and Middleburg—all offered to provide their General Orders immediately and without charge when requested.

“Ours isn’t secret squirrel stuff,” wrote Middleburg Chief A.J. Panebianco in an email. “I make it a public document.”

Purcellville Police Chief Cynthia McAlister said that when her department finishes an overhaul of its General Orders in December, she plans to post them online. She said when she worked in Fairfax, before the advent of the technology to offer those documents online, updated copies of the Fairfax Police Department’s General Orders were placed in the public libraries every year.

“The public pays for us to be there and I think the public should know how we operate,” McAlister said. “… It just gives a lot of guidelines for people to understand how we operate.”

There are some documents, she said, that are not open to the public—such as specific tactical procedures.

Loudoun Sheriff Michael Chapman said Loudoun’s General Orders contain secret information his office will not release to the public, such as details related to field operations.

“We actually do have to look at these to make sure before we just issue these things out, so we don’t post these things like police departments do, and we’re not required to,” Chapman said. “And I would say that for anything beyond that he may want, we coordinate all of our FOIA requests with the County Attorney’s office.”

He also said before releasing those General Orders that he would have to confer with the county attorney and Virginia’s risk management attorneys. However, he acknowledged the department has released portions of the General Orders upon request.

“We’ll copy it for them, we’ll get it to them, so we’re pretty responsive to that stuff, but it doesn’t mean we need to give everything out without reviewing it first,” Chapman said. “So, I think it’s important and it’s responsible to make sure that we look at things first.”

He said that was one difference between law enforcement that answers to the county government—a police department—and the constitutional authority of a sheriff, an elected official.

“I don’t know of anybody who’s more transparent than us, quite frankly,” Chapman said.

rgreene@loudounnow.com

8 thoughts on “Loudoun Sheriff’s Office Demands $2K for Document Other Departments Put Online for Free

  • 2019-02-28 at 8:40 am
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    Carve out the tactical procedures, and post the GO online Sheriff.

  • 2019-02-28 at 2:33 pm
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    ” we don’t post these things like police departments do, and we’re not required to,” …
    A typical, petulant response from the sheriff. Secret information regarding field procedures? Utter nonsense. He is in full paranoia mode due to the upcoming reelection campaign and does not want the public to have too much information about the workings of the sheriff’s office. Maybe a county police department, one that is truly transparent, will be on the county BOS agenda soon? This guy has got to go.

  • 2019-02-28 at 4:05 pm
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    Another thought…maybe the person requesting the FOIA should donate $1970.80 to Sheriff Chapman’s reelection campaign. I bet he would get those secret General Orders FedEx’d to him.

  • 2019-02-28 at 7:12 pm
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    “I don’t know of anybody who’s more transparent than us, quite frankly,” Chapman said.

    Let me answer that for you….Leesburg, Purcellville and Middleburg Police Departments.

  • 2019-02-28 at 7:13 pm
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    This echoes what seems to be a countywide policy–that citizens must pay to see public documents, period. Jurisdictions across the nation find multiple ways to conceal information from taxpayers. I’m sure it’s not a novel approach, but twisting public access to the workings of Loudoun government into a revenue stream is surely an innovative one. The other calculation, possibly from the county’s legal department, is that while these practices may be illegal, a citizen must have deep pockets and a lawyer to prove the case. The calculation might be that they don’t, and they won’t.

  • 2019-02-28 at 9:30 pm
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    Hey Mambo…newsflash! While many police General Orders are administrative in nature, there are many that also contain information considered as Law Enforcement Sensitive. To post and/or release General Orders to the public without careful review by the police department (to include an independent legal review) would be totally irresponsible and could place law enforcement officers and police operations at great risk. Clearly an officer safety issue! The extent of review by department employees would clearly depend on the size of the department. It goes to follow that the larger police agencies will have many more General Orders; operationally (sensitive in nature) and administrative. I don’t know the exact size of the Loudoun Sheriff’s Office, but I know that it has to be much larger in jurisdiction and personnel than Leesburg, Purcellville and Middleburg combined! (Bornhere- if you were Bornhere in Loudoun then you’d know that). The larger the department the more time and effort is needed for department employees to review (possibly volumes of paper) before any release. And that costs money. Money that should not be taken from the departments’ budget that taxpayers fund. No disrespect Mambo, but as a former law enforcement officer myself, it’s clear to me that you’re naïve in police matters and reveal a lack of knowledge- on what in my opinion- is a prudent, common-sense and practical oversight review of the sheriff’s office internal orders. It also seems to me that your issue is more personal against the sheriff than anything else.

    • 2019-03-01 at 8:59 am
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      Fairfax PD makes their GO’s public and they are substantially larger than Loudoun. The General Orders are digitalized and it is a simple and routine matter to excise “sensitive” material. As for my “issue” being more personal; it is. I’m a citizen of Loudoun County and this elected Sheriff offends me with his Machiavellian schemes, attitude towards the rank and file deputies, and utilizing the Office of the Sheriff to advance himself at the expense of the citizens and the constitution. You and all the other voters should have an issue with that, as well.

  • 2019-03-03 at 1:15 pm
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    For a guy that micromanages all aspects of this agency, I find it hard to believe that he is not familiar with any “secret” sections that would need to be redacted prior to release. His response is actually quite revealing as it provides a sliver of insight of his true management beliefs and his closely held feelings towards transparency.

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