More than 100 supporters of the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office passed through to the Loudoun County Government Center grounds in Leesburg Tuesday night to show their support for keeping the sheriff’s office intact as is.
The rally came after calls by leading Democratic elected officials to establish a county police department.
Organizers against the police department shift gathered outside the government center for remarks and went inside the facility carrying “Police Lives Matter” flags and apparel and “Support the LCSO” signs.
Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) has voiced support for implementing a county police department out of concern for deputies’ job security and the office’s transparency. She also believes the fast-growing county would be better served by police chief who reports to the county administrator.
Loudoun County is the only Virginia county in the D.C. region without a police department.
“This is a solution that is looking for a problem,” conservative Republican Geary Higgins, a former county supervisor, said at Tuesday’s business meeting.
He said Loudoun doesn't need to play politics with residents' safety and law enforcement.
A county police department would dramatically reduce the reach and scope of the county sheriff’s office, though it would not completely eliminate it. 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.
The decision of whether to start a county police department would ultimately be up to Loudoun voters, as the department would have to be approved via referendum. But the Board of Supervisors would first have to vote in favor of placing a referendum on the ballot.
Any changes as far as implementation of a police department would not take effect until 2024.
Republican Dick Black, a former state senator and ally of Sheriff Mike Chapman (R), said the board’s consideration to establish a police department is an effort against the voters’ wishes. He said the voters are “keenly aware” of the qualifications for sheriff.
“They know that the person they elect will defend their homes and businesses against criminal elements, and it has never been more important for voters to decide for themselves who will be their top law enforcement official,” Black said. “If they find they've made a mistake, they can always elect a new sheriff. But once they create a police department, the voters will forever lose all control over law enforcement.”
In the past week, the debate has broadened to more generally consider the county's form of government and associated costs with any transition, not simply the police department-sheriff's office debate.
Sheriff Chapman has fervently opposed the idea, touting the success of the sheriff’s office in the process. Last week, 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, though those figure were compiled by the LCSO and have been called into question by Randall.
Chapman says a police department would waste millions of dollars in subsequent maintenance and personnel costs and divide a “unified” and “highly successful” organization.
David Hunt, a former law enforcement officer, said he consults with jurisdictions across the country. He said the sheriff’s office in Loudoun is an excellent system and that having a police chief provides no added value.
"What benefits do you seek that a police department will bring to the citizens that the sheriff's office does not?” Hunt said. “Evaluating this cost-benefit analysis yields no tangible benefits warranting spending tens of millions of dollars.”
A police department is not required under the commonwealth-designated “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 distinction in the non-traditional forms of government is that two constitutional officers, treasurer and commissioner of revenue, are not required. In Loudoun, those offices are currently held by Roger Zurn (R) and Robert Wertz (R), respectively.