Randall, Chapman Differ on Police Costs, Benefits

County supervisors are not expected to vote immediately on whether to hold a voter referendum on starting a county police department. But the idea of a referendum, previously floated and then walked back, has ignited debate on what would be the best way to enforce the law in Loudoun.

Instead, the board on Tuesday will consider whether to schedule such a vote for sometime in the next year. If approved, a draft motion would see supervisors vote on whether to call a referendum sometime before May 2021, with any possible referendum on the November 2021 ballot.

County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) has talked several time 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 in Virginia by far without a police department. Sheriff Michael L. Chapman has opposed the idea, along with other ideas aimed at oversight, such as a civilian review board.

The idea first came to the Board of Supervisors in 2008, when County Chairman Scott York, a Republican, proposed a study of the idea. That effort failed to gain traction and was withdrawn without a vote.

After she initially announced she would push for a referendum, Randall published a set of questions and answers about the idea in which she made her case.

She has since said she will not ask for a referendum, although it remains on the board’s agenda.

She did not estimate costs, but argued after start-up costs, the cost of a police department would be similar, since it is likely most Sheriff’s Office law enforcement equipment and officers would simply join a police department.

And in her argument, she wrote the “the elected sheriff, by definition, is a politician first and a law enforcement officer second.” While chiefs of police would go through a hiring process under the county administrator and be expected to have managerial and law enforcement experience, she pointed out, the only qualifications to get on the ballot for sheriff are the legal minimums for running for office.

She also wrote that a police department would have greater protections for law enforcement officers. After each election, the sheriff can choose not to reinstate any deputies he pleases, leaving the deputy without any recourse, as demonstrated in former detective Mark McCaffrey’s unsuccessful wrongful termination suit against the sheriff.

“In short, they are out of a job with very little or no notice, and no ability for their case to be reviewed,” Randall wrote. “Our deputies are hardworking professionals for whom I have the greatest respect. I believe they deserve to have the rights afforded to every other County employee as it relates to losing their positions and their livelihoods.”

Chapman hit back with a 99-page report his office had repaired after talk about a police department renewed around the 2019 local elections. In that report, Chapman claims starting up a police department would cost more than $20 million, with expenses ranging from acquiring new office space to and hiring new administrative staff to redecorating vehicles and issuing new uniforms and business cards.

The $20 million estimate is a one-year figure; while some expenses are start-up costs that would only need to be spent once, other large items are recurring costs. For instance, Chapman’s office estimates the county would get less state funding for a police department than it does for its sheriff’s office.

In Virginia, sheriff’s offices get funding from the Virginia State Compensation Board, which helps fund the costs of constitutional offices. Police departments get assistance through Department of Criminal Justice Services grants.

While there’s no direct comparison, the example of Prince William County, a fellow DC exurb and the closest county in population to Loudoun, seems to support that argument.

Prince William County has both a police department and sheriff’s office. In Fiscal Year 2021, the two offices together have the budgeting equivalent of 1,008.5 full-time positions, or FTEs, with a total budget of $126,349,828. The two departments collect $12,069,581 in state aid.

The Prince William County Police Department also includes that county’s Animal Control Bureau; however, it does not include the Emergency Communications Center. Chapman has resisted integrating his dispatchers with the county’s fire-rescue call system.

In Loudoun, for comparison’s sake, the Sheriff’s Office and Animal Services together have 829.5 FTEs, and the Sheriff’s Office receives $110,513,829 in state funding. Loudoun County Animal Services does not receive state support.

That means among those positions, Prince William is receiving roughly $12,000 per FTE in state money, while Loudoun is getting roughly $17,000 per FTE.

However, Prince William County’s staff is less costly. Its Sheriff and Police Department together spend about $125,000 per FTE, while Loudoun’s Sheriff and Animal Services spend about $133,000 per FTE. Excluding Animal Services, that number is even higher: at $135,000 per FTE in the Sheriff’s Office.

Some of the costs in the Loudoun Sheriff’s Office’s report appear speculative or inflated; for example, the sheriff’s office estimates it would cost about $10,000 to hire a graphic designer for a new Loudoun Police Department logo and designs. While the county could issue a contract for the work, it also employs its own graphic designers.

Chapman has increasingly wielded his department’s resources toward political ends, including using official public safety channels to attack other elected officials. In a release last week, he alleged the Board of Supervisors “seeks to take over and politicize local law enforcement” with the police department idea, calling it “a reckless power grab intended to inject partisan politics into public safety.”

He took up that argument again in the department’s report, which points out the sheriff is directly elected by residents every four years.

“The sheriff is therefore directly connected to the county residents, who are the primary influencers of the sheriff’s office’s policies, practices, and procedures,” The report reads. “In a police department, the police chief is appointed by the Board of Supervisors and remains in that position at the will of the Board of Supervisors, under the management of the county administrator or executive. A police chief is therefore directly connected to the county Board of Supervisors, and subject to its political and policy agendas.”

That is a mischaracterization of the proposal. As proposed, a new police chief would be one step removed from supervisors; the chief would be hired by the county administrator, akin to other heads of Loudoun departments and public safety agencies like the fire-rescue chief.

Chapman has already faced accusations of using the power of his office for political ends. The Police Benevolent Association argued a wave of reassignments after Chapman’s last election amounted to political retaliation, and Chapman successfully defended in court his right to fire deputies for political reasons.

That case ended when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.

Either way, Loudouners are likely to get answers on more than that; the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is expected to vote on a more comprehensive study not just of possibly reorganizing law enforcement, but the entire county government. That report is due back by the end of the year.

Loudoun County Republicans have organized a protest to begin 45 minutes before the Board of Supervisors meeting, opposing the idea of a police department, and handing out talking points and recruiting people to speak during the public input part of the meeting.

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, when Prince George County officially separated the police department from the Sheriff’s Office.

There are currently only nine county police departments in Virginia, and Loudoun is by far the largest county by population without one. 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 US 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 commonwealth.

9 thoughts on “Randall, Chapman Differ on Police Costs, Benefits

  • 2020-07-20 at 3:12 pm
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    Covid is drawing on the county expenses in many ways and some we don;t know about yet. Regardless of how you fell on this issue, it is fiscally irresponsible to take on another larges continuous expenditure until we get the economy back to where it was pre-covid.

  • 2020-07-20 at 3:21 pm
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    Is this a news article, or an opinion piece? More likely the Chair Randall facebook post.

  • 2020-07-20 at 4:21 pm
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    Is this an editorial? Regardless — Phyllis is stealing our power, and giving it to herself and assorted cronies. That’s what this comes down to. She believes Loudoun voters are too ignorant to decide who we choose to run our law enforcement.

    Don’t accept the theft of your voting rights.

  • 2020-07-20 at 4:30 pm
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    The new Democrat-controlled Board of Supervisors (BoS) continues to create problems where none previously existed. We have one of the best Sheriff’s Departments that there is.

    The only study I’d like to see is one that recommends cuts to government commensurate with declining revenues. I’d suggest the BoS start by reversing the most recent pay raise that they voted for themselves.

    With so many businesses folding and so many people out of work, all Randall does is try to distract from government budget issues, while Briskman continues to harass our President as a traitor over a phony Russian story that the Pentagon debunked (ignoring the fact that Obama/Biden gave billions to mullahs in Iran who actually did kill our troops).

    Cut Loudoun government spending, your salaries, and the unwarranted power grab bull.

  • 2020-07-20 at 4:45 pm
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    I like that Chapman’s Sheriff’s Dept. arrested a sitting Supervisor a few years ago, and I doubt a police dept. would do the same. This is just another power grab by Radical Randall and the Democratic Destroyers. All you have to do is look at what Democrats are doing to police depts around the country. It is a Democrat tactic to simply not enforce laws they don’t like, and taking over police depts. is one way of making sure they can empower their despotic intentions.

    Show up on Tuesday and support the Sheriff’s office!

  • 2020-07-20 at 5:27 pm
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    Wait Randall is saying to only qualifications a sheriff needs is what is required in Virginia to get on the ballot. You mean the exact same qualifications that she needs to run a billion dollar county. Now she wants to also have final say on law enforcement, she is not qualified. Well I guess she should resign because she is not qualified to run the county. Just another political maneuver by the democrats to consolidate power. Try running a sheriff’s candidate who was actually qualified.

  • 2020-07-20 at 8:29 pm
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    Randall only wants Power. Had her Democrat candidate with no law enforcement experience beat Sheriff Chapman, her police force idea would not have been brought up. FACT!

    And Randall said she supported BLM and was against racism, then why hasn’t she condemned Blackface/KKK Democrat Governor Northam or Blackface Democrat Attorney General Herring? Oh they’re Democrats and Randall wants them to have Power.

    Wake up citizens, Randall is a poser!

  • 2020-07-20 at 8:30 pm
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    This is obviously a hit piece selling the argument Phyllis
    Randall’s argument and attempting to discredit the Sheriff’s. This paragraph is a great example of slanted reporting: Some of the costs in the Loudoun Sheriff’s Office’s report appear speculative or inflated; for example, the sheriff’s office estimates it would cost about $10,000 to hire a graphic designer for a new Loudoun Police Department logo and designs. While the county could issue a contract for the work, it also employs its own graphic designers. You are a reporter. “Some
    Appear”? Isn’t it your job to research and report? That’s obviously your opinion. As far as I can tell this is not an editorial. This is a horrible idea. It is now, it will be tomorrow and well into 2021. It’s bizarre that you compare Loudoun County’s budget and spend on law enforcement to that of Prince William county. I’ve lived here over 20 years and I promise you more Prince
    William residents want to live in Loudoun than Loudouners wanting to live there. Our law enforcement is high quality and professional. We are safer for it and I’m so disgusted with Randall’s heavy-handed, overbearing leadership of the Board of Supervisors.

  • 2020-07-21 at 7:59 am
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    Read between the lines! The BOS does not publish its top ten priorities which are being worked on nor reported regularly to constituents! What. it is doing is lurching from one political issue to another without demonstrating why these are as critical to constituents as unjustified high property taxes, unending traffic problems, unmanaged VDOT debacles, un-restrained high density residential development maneuvers and a failure to fix the assessment system. If the BOS can’t discipline. itself. to demonstrate progress toward a published list of priorities none of them should ever run again much less try to slander a Sheriff who could get re-elected even if he ran as an independent. 🙂 Nobody should want Loudoun to look like Seattle, Portland, Chicago or Minneapolis!

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