Report: Crime down in Loudoun County, Leesburg and Middleburg

 

As Loudoun Sheriff Michael Chapman gets ready to be sworn-in for his second term in office, several deputies will not be raising their hands to take the same oath.

At least five deputies have received notice from the sheriff that they will not be re-sworn as law enforcement officers for Loudoun County, and as of Jan. 1, will be unemployed, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

Chapman was unavailable for comment, but a Loudoun County Sheriff's Office spokesman said the deputies' statuses are a personnel issue and can't be discussed.

"We can't comment specifically on personnel matters, but the sheriff will make decisions on the staff based on the best interest of the department," said Kraig Troxell with the LCSO.

Sources close to the office said several veteran law enforcement officers, including a detective, will not be sworn in to continue their employment.

It's not uncommon for sheriffs taking office to restructure their teams, especially in their administration.

Virginia law allows sheriffs to fire deputies at-will, which, according to the executive director of the Virginia Police Benevolent Association, is something veteran law enforcement officers have fought for years to no avail.

Sean McGowan, a retired Alexandria Police officer, said deputies shouldn't be treated any different than law enforcement serving under an appointed police chief.

"Sheriff's deputies and police officers, in most cases, do the same job, assess the same risks and should be afforded the same job security," McGowan said. "Sheriffs don't have to explain to anyone, including the people they're firing, why they're getting rid of them."

McGowan said members of the association for years have tried to get legislation passed through the state General Assembly that would prohibit sheriffs from firing at-will, but the Virginia Sheriffs' Association always lobbies to have the draft killed before it reaches committee.

Legislation that would keep sheriffs from at least firing only within their administration has never seen the light of day, McGowan said.

Sheriffs, he said, use flawed reasoning when they say the policy makes sense because it allows them to get rid of bad deputies as soon as possible.

McGowan uses a quote from City of Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne when giving a rebut to that argument.

"[He] said he did not have to fire a single deputy. If they are bad, they will fire themselves," he said.

McGowan said in some cases sheriffs are justified in restructuring their staff, but usually, the decision is based on political motive.

"The sheriffs feel that for political reasons they don't have to re-hire people that didn't support them in the election," he said.

The argument comes on the heels of a debate in Loudoun about whether the county's sheriff's office should be a police department.

Several candidates for office, including Charlie King, a Republican who vied for the Board of Supervisors chairmanship, is an advocate for a county police department with its leadership appointed, rather than elected.

"Subjecting professional law enforcement officers to political turmoil every four years, and the uncertainty as to whether their careers may come to an end when the sheriff begins a new term, is unfair to those who risk their lives to save ours," King said in a prepared statement in September. "With a police department, these officers would be afforded the same protections as all county employees."

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