Loudoun Supervisors Weigh In on Police Proposal

Loudoun County supervisors have begun to stake their ground in the debate over whether to creates a police department to take over law enforcement duties from the sheriff.

All three of the board’s Republicans have already expressed some measure of opposition, citing the unknown costs of the change and criticizing what they say is a rushed process.

After a phone call with Sheriff Michael L. Chapman, County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) announced supervisors will vote on July 21 whether to hold a voter referendum on setting up a county police department this November. Chapman argued against the idea, taking the political dispute to official Sheriff’s Office channels to write that the Board of Supervisors “seeks to take over and politicize local law enforcement.”

Supervisor Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin), in a brief statement on Facebook, wrote “I strongly oppose this plan.”

“We haven’t seen nearly enough information about the costs, how it will be implemented, and what effects and consequences it may have,” Kershner wrote. He also echoed Chapman’s argument that a police department is less accountable to voters, arguing a police department “takes law enforcement out of the hands of an elected Sheriff and puts it into the hands of an unelected police department, which would not answer directly to the voters of Loudoun County the way that our Sheriff does.”

Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) wrote if the county is to consider starting a police department, “THIS IS NOT THE WAY TO DO SO.”

“If we’re going to consider doing this, it should be done through an extremely thorough process that provides residents and elected officials with the necessary information to make a truly informed decision when eventually asked to do so. NOT hastily by a decision two Tuesday’s from now by 9 uninformed elected individuals who think its a good idea to force residents to make such an important decision merely 4 months from now without first arming them with the necessary information to make a well informed decision.”

And Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) posted a lengthy breakdown of the issues at hand, concluding he would likely not support the motion for a voter referendum in its current form.

“Before we ask citizens to weigh in on such a complex topic, the Board of Supervisors should do its homework and have answers to these questions,” Letourneau wrote. “After discussing this with our staff this week, I’m not convinced a comprehensive analysis can be done in time for the November election this year. I think it is backwards for the Board of Supervisors to ask citizens to vote first, and get the facts later.”

He also wrote that the county should perhaps cast its net wider—examining the merits not only a police department, but a potential change to form of government. Loudoun’s traditional county supervisor model is not the only one available to Virginia counties; in the past, some supervisors have discussed internally whether they should look into other forms of government. Some large and rapidly growing counties in Virginia have switched to other forms of government which may change how the local government functions and which officers are elected.

But that, too, he wrote, is not feasible in the near term.

“There are pros and cons to this form of government, and to the others that are possible,” Letourneau wrote. “We need a good, rational, community discussion about those. It is very difficult to have that in a compressed timeline, especially in a Presidential election year.”

However, some supervisors have already expressed support for the proposal, including Supervisor Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn) who announced he will make the motion seeking a referendum.

He argued a chief of police hired by the county administrator would need to be qualified to manage law enforcement and a multi-million dollar budget, as opposed to only meeting the requirements to run for office.

“In all other counties within the U.S. National Capitol Region, law enforcement is the responsibility of a hired police chief who administers a police department,” Turner wrote in a press release. “To be hired as a police chief, candidates are required to have extensive law enforcement qualifications and a proven track record of law enforcement and investigative success.”

He wrote Loudoun should join other large counties in the region and state.

“After almost two decades of unprecedented growth and the transformation of Loudoun County from a largely homogeneous rural community into a highly diverse, modern county, now is the time to transition towards a more efficient and accountable community policing model adopted long ago by all the counties within the U.S. National Capitol Region,” Turner wrote. “Such a model provides a far more efficient use of our law enforcement resources, protects our law enforcement officers within an equitable human resources administrative system, and offers greater opportunities for collaborative community law enforcement practices.”

Loudoun is by far the largest county in Virginia without a police department; the next-largest county 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.

Vice Chairman Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) has also said he will support the proposal, comparing a chief of police to the fire-rescue chief, who is also hired by the county administrator, the county’s senior-most staff member and one of only two positions hired directly by the Board of Supervisors.

“No single politician would have the power to make any change,” Saines wrote. “The notion that this change would result in a ‘power grab’ is belied by the diffused nature of the Board’s 9-member structure and the historical record with the fire department. The fire department has not been politicized and neither would a police department.”

Electing the chief law enforcement officer, he argued, is more political.

“A police department would provide more transparency, accountability, and responsiveness,” Saines wrote. “The police chief would have to provide regular updates to the County administrator, like any head of a county agency, and ultimately this information would flow to the Board of Supervisors.”

Randall has also published a document of arguments for starting a police department and predicting that just laying the legal groundwork for a police department, including passing enabling legislation in the state General Assembly and writing a local ordinance, would take “two years or more.” As proposed, the police department would not start up until 2024, at the end of Chapman’s current term.

Proponents of the plan have been hesitant to attack Chapman’s record amid Loudoun’s low crime rates. Loudoun has one of the lowest crime rates in the Washington, DC region. However, they have warned future sheriffs may not be as qualified for the office.

And Randall pointed out that deputies can be fired without warning or recourse at the beginning of each new term.

“If a deputy’s employment is not renewed, that individual has no human resources or county grievance recourse,” Randall wrote. “In short, they are out of a job with very little or no notice, and no ability for their case to be reviewed.”

Much of Chapman’s previous term was spent defending his legal ability to do just that; the department’s attorneys successfully defended a wrongful termination case, pointing to court precedent that allows the sheriff to fire any deputy for political reasons, after a former detective was fired after supporting a different candidate in the Republican primary. That case ended when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.

The Police Benevolent Association also argued a wave of reassignments after Chapman’s last election amounted to political retaliation. Those included reassigning the president and senior vice president of the PBA’s Loudoun chapter, which declined to endorse Chapman. They were reassigned from investigating thefts, robberies and homicides to night patrol and jail duty.

If supervisors vote to ask for a referendum, that request will go to the Circuit Court to be placed on the ballot at this November’s general election. If that happens, the decision will fall to Loudoun voters.

rgreene@loudounnow.com

25 thoughts on “Loudoun Supervisors Weigh In on Police Proposal

  • 2020-07-13 at 2:16 pm
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    A word you won’t hear from these leftist supervisors: Disenfranchisement. They are stealing the right of the people Loudoun to control our law enforcement. All part of the nationally coordinated attack on law enforcement by democrats. These supervisors are doing what they’re told by their party. They don’t care about you or your family.

    The false notion that the board won’t have control over a police “chief” is absurd. My kids can tell more convincing lies.

  • 2020-07-13 at 2:59 pm
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    Calm down Chris Manthos. No one is stealing anything. A police chief answers to the county government which answers to the voters and represents all the voters. Not just the voters of one political party or the other. Getting politics out of the county’s law enforcement would be a step toward professionalizing the force and improving their service. Not everything should be us vs them…law enforcement is one of those things.

    • 2020-07-13 at 3:38 pm
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      There is no reason the change. The Sheriff’s Dept. works very well. I want to vote for the Sheriff of the County and most people want the opportunity to vote.

      Democrats yell all the time about needing to expand voting opportunities…until Democrats are stealing the opportunity to vote for their own devious purposes.

    • 2020-07-13 at 5:42 pm
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      LoveLoudoun, it seems chair Randall did not get your memo as she made the argument today that a police department could not be politicized, precisely because the chief does NOT report to the board but to Hemstreet, an unelected bureaucrat.

      So which is it?

      Political with oversight from elected officials, in which case the current system works just fine and the supervisors pretending a police department will take politics out of it is nothing but a big fat lie?

      Or apolitical with no oversight from supervisors and by extension We the People of Loudoun County, in which case it becomes a faceless machine that cares little for us?

      You can’t have it both ways.

    • 2020-07-13 at 6:59 pm
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      Oh yes indeed it is attempted theft. We don’t even have a coherent plan for managing this pandemic and yet they have time to discuss and seriously consider a proposal of this impact? Insanity.

    • 2020-07-14 at 9:45 am
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      Love, you and your neighbors have the sole decision making capability about who our chief LE is. Nobody else. Just the voters – the people. Phyllis and her cohorts want to take that power from you, and give it to themselves. That is theft. They take from you, and give it to themselves.

      If you think a pack of goofy politicians can make a better decision than you can, then I’m saddened to see a citizen willingly gave away their rights and authority to people who see you as nothing more than an ATM machine.

  • 2020-07-13 at 3:35 pm
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    This is ridiculous, how can you make a proposal without understanding the costs. Is our BOS that ignorant??? Before any proposal can be made, an intelligent person would outline the costs. This is how the business world works. Turner and Saines wake and up do your job or step aside and let someone who knows how to step in. You two are acting like Dumb and Dumber.

  • 2020-07-13 at 3:35 pm
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    I just heard a police department can be unionized and a Sheriff’s Dept. can not. That would be the core motivation here and why Democrats have jumped on the idea without any real thought. A police department conversion is a payoff to the union thugs of the Democrat Party.

    • 2020-07-13 at 6:32 pm
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      Whoever told you that information is incorrect. Theer are no law enforcement unions in Virgina. There is the Fraternakl Order of Police and Sheriff’s Association which are just that associations or non-profit advocacy groups.

  • 2020-07-13 at 5:20 pm
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    The board or supervisors will debate a rezoning or comp plan amendment for month or even years, wanting to know every little detail but to make a wholesale change to our law enforcement well that’s different let’s pass it and then ask questions. Haven’t we heard that before. “We need to pass the bill to see what’s in it”. This is just another political power grab. Look at all the cities that have rioting going on and their elected politicians told the police to Stand down and let them burn the place down. That will be Loudoun’s future. A politician with no law enforcement experience telling the police what laws to and not to enforce.

  • 2020-07-13 at 5:50 pm
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    Remember the guy the democrats ran in 2019 who had no law enforcement experience?

  • 2020-07-13 at 6:40 pm
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    I can clearly see the politics here and that is why Sheriff’s Offices in big jurisdictions have been relegated to their Constitutional roles. The Republicans hold the Office and want to keep that power. I believe this process should be vetted thoroughly as there are plenty of neighboring Virginia jurisdictions that have eventually transformed from a County Sheriff to a Police Department for law enforcement. There will be pros and cons to both but obviously most large jurisdictions in the state found more pros in the PD route. We need to determine why.

    One issue is the effect on elections when an elected Sheriff can act as sole Emperor and hire and fire at will. This leads to political paybacks, loss of experienced officers who may be on the “wrong” side in an election, and other such non-professional nonsense we all know happens. Ending that procedure would be prudent to me as partisan politics has seeped too far into the operational levels of government.

  • 2020-07-13 at 6:44 pm
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    Randall is 100% disingenuous, had Chapman lost to a Democrat last year, she wouldn’t have brought this matter up. Unless one is completely inane, it is crystal clear that this is a power grab.

    Democrats want control and power, they always put citizens and what may be best for a city, county, state or country second! Proven Fact.

  • 2020-07-13 at 6:57 pm
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    This is the equivalent of watering the flowers when your house is on fire. Or, better stated, taking advantage of a crisis to get what you want while votes are distracted trying to keep their heads above water. The audacity of considering a change that will cost the taxpayers of this county one red penny more in this environment is unconscionable. It is legislative malpractice. I sure hope Loudoun voters are smart enough to oppose this. We have the best law enforcement I’ve ever experienced in my adult life. Can we find something that’s actually broken here to fix?

  • 2020-07-13 at 7:06 pm
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    After all we have endured for the last 40 months with our federal government passing legislation or executive orders without study, do we really want to go down the same path locally? This seems to be a major change to how our County is run. We citizens need to have details on what the changes will be, the associated costs and how it will affect the County operations. Additionally, the study should include the any advantages and shortcomings of the current Sheriff system. I believe this is not a simple question that can be proposed and voted on in a matter of weeks or months.
    THE CITIZENS DEMAND THAT THIS INFORMATION BE ASCERTAINED AND DISTRIBUTED BEFORE ANY VOTING TAKES PLACE. RUSHED GOVERNING ONLY LEADS TO MAJOR SUSPICION OF THE SPONSORING PARTIES.

  • 2020-07-13 at 7:28 pm
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    The BoS will not currently fully fund the schools because “The county doesn’t have the funds” but we want to spend MILLIONS of dollars more each year to start/run a Police Dept.

  • 2020-07-13 at 8:05 pm
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    You don’t need to look too far to see a real world demonstration of what happens when you put a group of politically motivated politicians in charge of your law enforcement. How about that recent dumpster fire in Purcellville? There may be some things we could work with Richmond on to tweak a few things (Sheriff’s ability to not re-hire/retain deputies surrounding elections, etc.) but we really have a first-rate law enforcement agency in the LCSO and one of the lowest, if not the lowest, serious crime rate in the entire region. It’s not broke. It doesn’t need this kind of fixing. This is nothing more than blatant, rotten politics at its absolute worse,

  • 2020-07-13 at 8:48 pm
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    The Supervisors are taking away the citizens right to vote. You are trying to put in a police chief so You can control him/her. The money it would cost is outrageous but the taxpayers will have to pay that. Why would you fix something that is Not broken. Then what ?? Defund the police dept and make the citizens less safe ???? Stupid Move !!

  • 2020-07-14 at 7:30 am
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    Remember the panic when you couldn’t find toilet paper? Wait until you cannot find a sheriff!

  • 2020-07-14 at 7:33 am
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    This is a great example of why journalism is so important and how dangerous our society can become without it. “More efficient and accountable” are words used by the majority party on the BOS but their actions and statements are more similar to what Seattle is facing than what Loudoun is about. The BOS controls the budgets but so far chooses NOT TO BE RESPONSIBLE for the excessive costs of the school system, the costs of the Sheriff Department, The Commonwealth Attorney Department and really avoids managing the Commissioner of Revenue Assessment debacle. The BOS seems to want control but avoids making serious progress on solving county problems other than purely partisan based political pet projects. My evidence:

    Route 15 north of Leesburg still not fixed, TRAFFIC all around Loudoun still getting worse, property taxes still 39% higher than the state average, LCPS still running extremely inefficiently and facing a major fall debacle of minimal educational value while still costing. $1.4 billion, garbage still being buried in Loudoun, no high speed wireless internet solution for rural areas and assessment system incorrectly and unfairly taxing residential while severely under assessing commercial land (just look at latest Amazon purchase of land for $75 million while it was only assessed for $3.5 million and of course the Greenway which refinanced itself for over $1 billion is still assessed less than 40% of its market value based on its’ own public financial reports) Maybe the BOS should solve real problems (do its own job) before churning the safety of Loudoun which doesn’t seem to be a problem compared to what other partisan controlled communities are facing!! 🙂

  • 2020-07-14 at 5:00 pm
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    No reason to change Loudoun law enforcement which continues to operate well without political tinkering from our esteemed BOS.

    This is a Randall power move.

    Keep the Sheriff’s Department, boot Randall.

  • 2020-07-14 at 5:35 pm
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    The Sheriff is accountable to we the people of Loudoun NOW! We don’t need another layer of politicians and bureaucrats between us and our Sheriff’s Dept. I’m glad that the Sheriff can hire and fire. I don’t want politicians, bureaucrats, and police unions preventing that from happening. Our crime statistics have gone down!. The LCSO visits with the people regularly to hear our ideas, and, they listen. We have a Sheriff who is very responsive to the people now. Let’s keep it that way!

  • 2020-07-15 at 8:18 am
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    How can someone charged with upholding and enforcing the law (the sheriff) be of a political party? I wonder if the sheriff was a democrat what the flat- earthers would be saying!

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