The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors will hold off on recommending a voter referendum to establish a police department and will instead consider a government structure study related to the issue.
Loudoun County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) made the announcement Tuesday and said the board will take up the potential study on July 21 at its final business meeting before the August break.
The study is a shift from earlier efforts to promote a voter referendum asking the question of whether the county should establish a police department. In the past few days, the public has reached out to elected officials to weigh in on the topic.
Randall, who said she received a couple hundred responses, said about 80 percent of respondents prefer to have more information on the cost of creating a police department.
“When that number of people on both sides of an issue speak, as an elected official, we should listen,” Randall said Wednesday on Facebook. “In addition, much, if not most of the information put out by the sheriff was unfortunately not accurate. So yes, pausing is appropriate. The motion — that will be put forward by Supervisor [Mike] Turner — will be for information on cost and process.”
In earlier interviews, Randall has supported the idea of implementing a county police department out of concern for deputies’ job security and the office’s transparency.
A county police department would dramatically reduce the reach and scope of the county sheriff’s office. Neighboring Fairfax County operates with a police department taking primary law enforcement duties across the county, while the sheriff’s office oversees courthouse security and oversight of the jail. It’s expected Loudoun would operate similarly, with a county police chief hired by the county administrator. The sheriff, in their reduced role, would still be elected.
Supervisor Turner (D-Ashburn) said Loudoun County has been considering the change for more than a decade.
“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 said in a prepared statement. “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 County Sheriff Mike Chapman (R) has loudly opposed the idea and he has touted the success of the sheriff’s office. On Monday, his office released a comprehensive assessment of its operations compared to what might occur if the county removed law enforcement functions from the elected sheriff and replaced them with a police chief.
The study stated that replacing the sheriff’s office with a police department would cost at least $20 million for personnel and equipment start-up costs. Chapman claims it would waste millions of dollars in subsequent maintenance and personnel costs and divide a “unified” and “highly successful” organization.
“Proponents of this change have said they want to take politics out of law enforcement, but in fact, they want to do just the opposite,” Chapman said in a prepared statement Saturday morning. “This is a reckless power grab intended to inject partisan politics into public safety and forever change the direct accountability of the sheriff’s office to the people of Loudoun County.”
Chapman added, “I encourage all Loudoun County citizens to examine the results of this study that could jeopardize the tremendous progress we have achieved here in Loudoun. My hope is that this study marks the beginning of a long-term, comprehensive conversation among elected leaders and the community.”
A police department is not required under the current “traditional” form of government, which Loudoun operates under. However, under “county executive” and “urban county executive” forms of government, having a police department is required.
Another significant difference is that two constitutional officers, treasurer and commissioner of revenue, are not required under “county executive” and “urban county executive” forms of government. Those offices are currently held by Roger Zurn (R) and Robert Wertz (R), respectively.
Dulles Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R) said on Facebook he opposed a motion to place a question on the ballot to create a police department. Instead, he suggested county staff conduct the comprehensive study of the topic with the sheriff’s cooperation to make a determination on the voter referendum.
“It is also legitimate to examine the other constitutional positions and whether they should remain elected or not,” Letourneau said on social media. “Whether or not the county wants to make a change, it has been a long time since any of these topics were discussed, and it is reasonable to take a look at them every so often since there are other options available to us.”