After some Loudoun County Supervisors voiced support for establishing a county police department, board members launched an initiative last July to study changing its form of government. If the concept moves forward, a police department would fall under the purview of the board, unlike the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, which operates independently.
County leaders and residents have expressed mixed reaction to the idea, which could impact county law enforcement among other operations.
On April 20, county staff provided a briefing to the board on its progress and presented options for changing the form of government, including creating a charter and selecting one of five forms of government.
The board did not take any action.
The preliminary report of establishing a county-wide police department will be submitted in November.
In July, the board directed staff to study changing the Loudoun County form of government and develop a list of governing and law enforcement options — including, specifically, the establishment of a Loudoun County Police Department in all available options.
The board approved the measure 6-3, with supervisors Caleb Kershner (R-Catoctin), Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) opposing.
Less than 24 hours after the November 2019 election, Randall raised the idea of implementing a county police department. In the wake of winning her second term, Randall said she was concerned with deputies’ job security and the office’s transparency.
Some members of the board believe the fast-growing county would be better served by a police chief who reports to the county administrator, unlike a sheriff, who is elected and maintains independence.
Sheriff Mike Chapman (R) has been opposed the idea and has pointed to the county’s relatively low crime rate and his office’s numerous accolades.
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.
Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said in an earlier interview Loudoun would operate similarly, with a county police chief hired by the county administrator. The sheriff, in their reduced role, would still be elected.
Two supervisors say ‘set aside’ changing government structure
Supervisor Mike Turner (D-Ashburn) and Buffington were on opposite sides of a vote to begin studying the possible establishment a police department and change to the government structure.
On April 20, the two were in agreement in urging their colleagues on the board to drop considering changing the governance structures.
Some of the options available for creating a new form of governance require 20% of all voters from the last presidential election to sign a petition supporting changing the form, the staff report reads Deputy County Administrator Charles Yudd estimated 45,000 voters would be needed.
Other options require 10 percent of voters or a resolution initiated by the board.
If the constitutional offices were abolished, the board would have to consider transferring functions from the Treasurer and Commissioner of Revenue to Finance and Budget and/or an appointed county Assessor.
Turner said collecting even 10 percent of the necessary signatures and launching an education campaign is “daunting and the results are just not worth the effort.”
Buffington echoed Turner’s remarks.
“That does sound like a very burdensome and a very high bar to me — and it’s probably that way for a reason,” Buffington said.
If the board want to make minor variations to its form of government, it can initiate a county charter. A charter must be approved by a two-thirds vote of each house of the General Assembly and the governor.
One change the board may consider is assuming direct responsibility for the library system. The Library Board of Trustees, the members of which are appointed by the supervisors, has administered the library system — including its 10 branches — since the 1970s.
The library’s fiscal 2021 adopted budget includes expenditures of more than $22.3 million, with local tax funding supporting more than $21.8 million. The system has 223 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, according to county staff.
Report on police department expected early next year
The board will have to wait until November for a preliminary report on establishing a police department, with the final report due Feb. 22, 2022, according to an April 20 staff report.
Sheriff Mike Chapman (R), Randall and Yudd made up the group that unanimously selected the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), as a vendor qualified to provide the requested study, the staff report states.
Randall said on April 20 she understands people wished the process moved faster, but selecting IACP assured the group that the process would be done “right” and kept “confidential.”
Despite the vendor having the name “police” in its name and assumptions the vendor would strongly consider the county establishing a police department, Yudd said the vendor’s response was encouraging.
He said IACP is made up of representatives from both sheriff’s offices and police departments. The scope of the study will include costs, operational impacts and best practices.
Concerns raised over ‘599’ funds
While funding for sheriff’s offices comes in part from state funding through the Virginia Compensation Board and in part from local supplements, local police departments are funded through local funds and “599” funds, which are state funds to localities with police departments that meet certain criteria as defined in Virginia Code 9.1-165 through 9.1-172.
Umstattd asked IACP to include the practical effect of the 599 funds in its report “because if the state has consistently been cutting 599 funds for decades, it may not be that much money.”
An option for the board
Should the board wish to implement a change in form of government by Jan. 1, 2024, staff recommended that the board consider phasing in any needed resources for fiscal 2023, according to the April 20 staff report.
Should a change in the form of government require the creation of new departments, or if major organizational changes occur, and more staff be required, additional managerial staff will be needed to begin to work toward a fiscal 2024 implementation time frame.
These positions would begin establishing needed departments and/or divisions.