County supervisors may take the first formal step toward a Loudoun County Police Department on July 21.
County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said she will ask for a vote on whether to put the idea to a voter referendum, the first step in the process of starting a county police department. If that that passes and voters go on to approve a new police department, it would not begin until 2024 after current Sheriff Michael L. Chapman’s term expires.
“That is really important to me, because it’s not about any one person,” Randall said. “And Sheriff Chapman was just elected, he was duly elected, and I do not believe we should try to take the elected sheriff out of this position while his term is in office.”
Chapman, a Republican, won re-election over a Democratic challenger in 2019, and began his third four-year term this year. If a county police department is created it would assume primary law enforcement duties, while the elected sheriff would retain control over the jail, court security and civil process.
Randall has long talked about starting a police department in Loudoun, arguing it would allow for increased oversight and transparency of law enforcement, and pointing out that Loudoun is the largest county by far in the commonwealth without a police department. Chapman has resisted the idea, along with other ideas aimed at oversight or integrating his office with the county administration, such as a civilian review board or combined 911 dispatch. He has argued in the past that his office is more accountable to citizens because he is an elected official.
Randall said good things have happened under Chapman’s leadership, “but he’s not going to be sheriff all the time, and we take a risk—there’s always a risk that somebody could be elected who maybe shouldn’t be in that position.”
Randall stressed she does not wish to abolish or defund law enforcement in Loudoun.
“I think the worst possible thing is this becomes about Phyllis Randall and Mike Chapman, because this is not about Phyllis Randall and Mike Chapman,” Randall said. “This is about a county of 413,000 people, and what now should happen.”
Even with a police department, the county would still have a sheriff. As a constitutional office, the state mandates the county elect a sheriff, and the office could only be dispensed with if supervisors and voters decide to change the county’s form of government. In other counties with both, the police department handles law enforcement, while the sheriff’s office is responsible for the courts, jail and civil process.
A chief of Police would be hired under the County Administrator, akin to other heads of Loudoun public safety agencies like the fire-rescue chief.
If Loudoun decides to hand primary law enforcement duties to a police department, it will be the first Virginia county to do so since 1995. That was the year Prince George County, east of Petersburg, officially separated the police department from the sheriff’s office.
There are currently only nine county police departments in Virginia. Of the six most-populous counties in Virginia, Loudoun is the only one without a police department; the next-largest county after Loudoun with a sheriff’s office in charge of law enforcement is Stafford County, with a population of around 150,000 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Loudoun’s rapidly growing population is more than twice that, estimated around 413,000 as of 2019.
Loudoun also has the largest sheriff’s office in the state.
If supervisors vote with Randall to ask for a referendum, that request will go to the Circuit Court to be placed on a ballot.
Loudoun Now has reached out to Chapman for comment.