Mike Chapman

Loudoun County Sheriff Michael Chapman (R) at the new firearms training facility groundbreaking in February 2019.

The challenge for Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D) and others supporting a shift from a county sheriff's office to a county police department is similar to one Randall faced a couple years back.

In 2017, Randall and the outgoing board dug in and declared a more than 60 percent pay raise for members of the Board of Supervisors was the right thing to do. Despite widespread public backlash and sharply divided supervisors, the board powered through and voted 5-4 in favor of the massive pay hikes.

Thanks to a section of Virginia code that prohibits local legislators from giving themselves a raise, the new salaries couldn't be implemented until the next board took office, so supervisors proclaimed they weren't voting on their own salaries. Still, it was no secret that several of those 2017 supervisors would be seeking re-election and favored in their contests. So while not technically giving themselves a fat new pay day, that's effectively what Randall and incumbents Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) did.

Here's where the sheriff's office-police department debate comes in: For better or worse, you can't separate the policy change and its impact on the office from the current office-holder. Shifting from a county sheriff's office to a county police department will inevitably appear an evaluation of the sheriff, whether it's Mike Chapman (R) now or some Democrat down the line.

A brief overview: Forever-growing Loudoun County has the largest full-service sheriff's office in the commonwealth, and proponents of instituting a county police department say a county police chief hired by the county administrator would mean more oversight of law enforcement. Neighboring Fairfax and Prince William have a county police department that handles law enforcement duties.

Were Loudoun to move to a police force, there would still be a sheriff's office – something required by the commonwealth's constitution – but the sheriff's office's powers would be dramatically diminished. The sheriff's office would be responsible for securing the county courthouse and local jail. A county police department, meanwhile, would be responsible for countywide crime and law enforcement – duties currently handled by the sheriff's office.

Supporters of the current system argue “don't fix what isn't broken,” and they say an elected sheriff gives voters the most direct voice in hiring the county's chief law enforcement officer.

Advocates for a county police department, meanwhile, say there's little true oversight of a sheriff elected in low-turnout, off-year elections. They further say deputies shouldn't be able to be fired for their political beliefs or merely because they disagree with the sheriff – something that is allowed under the current system.

While it's open for debate, we actually believe Randall when she says floating the idea of a county police force isn't a singular shot at Chapman. After all, this isn't an entirely new policy discussion – there were rumblings among supervisors on the current board that they should study the feasibility of a county police department, but the Republican majority opted against a domestic drama with Chapman. (For the record, there are current GOP office-holders in favor of a police department or, at least, studying the issue further.)

Still, Randall shouldn't act like there isn't an R vs. D consideration here. We highly doubt – highly doubt – the chairwoman would've broached the idea of a county police department the day after the election had Democrat Justin Hannah defeated Chapman.

There are honest arguments and questions on both sides of the debate. Indeed, with a low crime rate and generally safe citizenry, why fix something that doesn't appear broken?

But should deputies have no recourse if they're fired for their political beliefs?

Further, what are the costs associated with implementing a county police department? And how could a county police force impact law enforcement operations in Loudoun's incorporated towns?

As Chapman said after Randall's suggestion: “I think the citizens need to know what this is exactly about ... ”

We couldn't agree more, and we'd like to see a robust – while respectful, of course – debate ensue. In the end, should the Board of Supervisors decide to advance a county police proposal, it'll be up to Loudoun's voters to decide via referendum.

There are too many unknowns for us to take a position on the issue at this point. But we implore county leaders to consider the questions thoughtfully and honestly. We believe the inquiry should be done without the current sheriff in mind. But we also know there's no way that will happen – not when there's so much power at stake.

_____________

Related coverage:

-"Randall expects new board to discuss county police department"

-"Loudoun County sheriff calls police department proposal 'a matter of exercising power and control’"

(20) comments

Lobophan

This false narrative that Sheriff Chapman fired deputies that opposed his election has to stop. He fired a guy, who campaigned for someone while on duty. That guy sued, twice, both were dismissed out of hand. If I don't like Chapman I can vote him out, if I don't like the hand picked Chief by Chairperson Randall I'm stuck.

amerigirl

You are sooooo wrong. Which one???? He has been sued for wrongful termination by 2 different people, John Wayne Gregory and Mark McCaffrey. And yep it was political. In fact the court found Chapman is protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity, which allows constitutional officers to fire employees in policymaking positions for political reasons. What happened to freedom of speech and democratic values?

Representing the Mambo

That is not true at all. In fact, Chapman filed a Petition in Opposition with the U.S. Supreme Court and this is an excerpt:

" McCaffrey never filed any complaints or reported any alleged misconduct, malfeasance, or unprofessionalism on the part of Sheriff Chapman to the LCSO, Loudoun County, or any other entity. McCaffrey never engaged in any whistleblowing activity. Additionally, McCaffrey did not speak publicly about the election, did not wear campaign apparel or accessories, and did not use his official LSCO position in support of Sheriff Chapman’s opponent." Pet. App. 110.

The lawsuit was filed (with the long list of accusatons) 7 Months after McCaffrey was fired. Chapman told his people that he would "get McCaffrey" for not endorsing him when he was on the Police Benevolent Association (PBA). If anyone campaigned while on-duty (a truly stupid thing to do), they would have been justifiably fired, but this was not the case in this instance. I suggest YOU stop spreading a False narrative- facts are inconvenient things for a guy like Chapman.

amerigirl

Thank you for filling in the details so well!

Esquire

I was ambivalent towards the proposal to a police department. But when I heard Chapman has fired deputies who opposed his re-election, that convinced me that it was time to make the change. Oversight of law enforcement should be by the Board, not an arrogant Sheriff.

ashburnmike

News - “ We highly doubt – highly doubt – the chairwoman would've broached the idea of a county police department the day after the election had Democrat Justin Hannah defeated Chapman.”

Also news - “The sun will rise in the east tomorrow.”

The ONLY thing you can give Randall credit for at this point is that she is no longer trying to hide the ball.

amerigirl

Maybe you should reread the article. Randall had been considering that move along with other board members for a while now, it had been mentioned long before the election. So, before you go around slandering people maybe look at the facts. Obviously, she wasn’t ‘trying to hide the ball’ if this is an old issue, years old.

ace10

Step 1(a) the (D)'s in Richmond gut the Dillon rule, Step 1(b) the (D)'s in Loudoun create Police Deptartment, Step (2) turn Loudoun into a sanctuary jurisdiction.

AFF

The democratic candidate for Sheriff literally ran on the platform of creating a county police force. I’m disappointed in the LTM.

Lemmy Motorhead

The push for Police Department by chairwoman Randall has always been political, plain and simple. We know if Loudoun had a Sheriff Pelosi or Shelia Jackson Lee, this proposal would never see the light of day...

What needs to happen though, is the sheriff's election needs to be taken a whole lot more seriously. We need to have debates between the candidates, and we need detailed policy positions. Something tells me Hannah would have received far fewer votes if he actually had to stand next to someone who's been in law enforcement for about 4 decades and explain how a 28 year old with zero law enforcement experience should be sheriff of the largest sheriff's office in the commonwealth...

amerigirl

Therein lies the problem. Not the politics but that they are the largest sheriff's office in the commonwealth. It is time to diversify the law enforcement to get better lew enforcement.

BobOhneiserEsq

Just before the prior local election the LCDC was offered an opportunity to endorse Mr. Chapman on the basis of his competence, experience and record of achievement. the open response was clear - can't support a Republican no matter what. This is the issue - when will folks realize that partisan politics blocks getting the most qualified people willing to serve? With 500 sworn deputies and another 200 or so support staff it would be a gold mine of power base building to replace this productive group with political aligned people wouldn't it? Such a contradiction - change what is working so we can tone down the politics of the Sheriff Dept. so we (the new majority of the BOS) can load up the department with politically aligned friends. I wonder if this hiring desire will put the school system over $2 billion per year during this BOS term? When do we get efficiencies due to economies of scale and experienced management yielding lower budgets? :-) and loser taxes!

jke

I am at peace knowing Randall is not in charge of our well being and safety on a daily basis.

Chris McHale

I stopped reading at "we actually believe Randall". At that point I knew it was yet another LTM pro-democrat political piece and not an actual editorial worth reading.

Locojrt

But Chris, isn't Chapman one of the MOST suck up politicians we have!? There are qualified people but because of politics (or intimidation?!) No one runs. I'm sorry but Chapman is not goid fpr LoCo.

Chris McHale

Locojrt - let first say I'm not a fan of Chapman, he waste a ton of tax payer money over the years on foolish decisions. However I voted for him because the other candidate had less experience than a bowl if soup.

There are plenty of qualified LEO's out there that could run. Someone from Fairfax PG Cty, Prince William. Ect. However he was elected by Loyndoun residents, at least those that bothered to vote. Now he has the job until next election, but if course someone that is unhappy with him and his decisions are try to remove him without an election. Sounds like someone else in the news recently.

amerigirl

Chris, why would expanding the dept. be removing Chapman? Wouldn't he still head one of them?

DaPark

Hannah winning would have been the prime reason of why there needs to be a county police dept: a Sheriff with zero law enforcement experience and training running a very large all services department. The county needs someone who's actually qualified and has street experience.

Having a police department would open the Chief hiring pool to be filled internally by someone who worked up the ranks or by a nation wide search for the best candidate instead of two random guys living in Loudoun who decided to run for office.

Lemmy Motorhead

You bring up.the only solid argument for forming a police department. A better solution is to take the Sheriff's election as seriously as a national congressional campaign. In Maricopa county AZ, both Democrats and Republicans take the sheriff's race extremely seriously...

There are a plethora of individuals in our area with tons of experience in local and federal law enforcement. There's no good reason why Democrats chose to vote for zero experience hannah, when highly experienced Harmison was also running in the democratic primary...

Remember, a police chief will usually temper his remarks to the public; a sheriff can "tell it like it is" because he's not beholden to the county board overlords...

Mark Carney

If there was a Loudoun County Police Department, would there be oversight to keep politically-motivated dispatch information from leaking or disappearing?

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