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Posted on: April 1, 2022

IACP Study Concludes Converting LCSO to Police Department is Projected to Cost Over $307 Million

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IACP Study Concludes that Converting Loudoun’s Sheriff’s Office to a Police Department is Projected to Cost More than $307 Million, is Unnecessary, and Risks Public Safety

Loudoun County, Virginia (April 1, 2022) -On April 5, 2022, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) will present the results of its $500,000 study on converting the law enforcement functions of the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) into a police department.

Click here to view the full IACP study (all references below reflect actual report page numbers).

The study, authorized by a majority of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors (BOS) in July 2020 in seeking to replace the role of the elected Sheriff, demonstrates that a conversion to a countywide police department is projected to cost more than $307 million over ten years – and no less than $213 million (ppg. 87, 95), is unnecessary based on the LCSO’s “excellence in performance” (pg. 86), will present numerous operational and performance risks to include increased crime (pg. 88), and will remove direct accountability to the voters of Loudoun County, placing all law enforcement decision-making authority in the hands of the BOS (pg. 90).

The last point means citizens would no longer have a stakeholders’ right to select and hold accountable their chief law enforcement official every four years, as they have throughout the history of Loudoun County. Several attempts to create a police department in the past have not been recommended, including the 2012 Loudoun County Government Reform Commission’s unanimous recommendation against making the change (pg. 6). The Commission “strongly recommend[ed] that the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors maintain the current structure of a sheriff’s office without adding a police department.” No compelling reason was identified, and the conversion process was determined to be complex, disruptive, and costly.

Should the BOS decide to move ahead and create a police department, it would have to send the matter to a public referendum (pg. 10), and a majority of Loudoun voters would have to agree. The referendum path is what some on the BOS sought to do in July 2020 but decided against after overwhelming citizen opposition. The IACP study validates the reasons for that opposition. 

LCSO is Highly Effective

The IACP study concludes the following:

“By all accounts and measures, the LCSO is providing exceptional service to the residents of the county, as measured through multiple performance indicators” (pg. 28). 

LCSO receives high marks in the study, which cites the consistent use of 21st Century Policing standards (pg. 23), successful efforts to maintain Loudoun’s exceptionally low crime rate – the lowest in the Council of Governments region – (pg. 28), the high level of employee morale (pg. 33), and the high levels of citizen satisfaction, ranging from 87% to 97%, based on third party surveys of county residents (pg. 32). 

IACP also states, "Maintaining the current structure of the sheriff’s office maintains a clear competitive and economic advantage when considering the annual cost of delivering policing services" (pg. 87), and cites its excellent recruiting and low vacancy rates, and its outperformance of surrounding jurisdictions in numerous categories despite being understaffed by up to 79 sworn positions (pg. 115).

Tangible Risks Have Been Identified

The IACP further concludes:

“There are serious potential and unnecessary risks associated with conversion; on the other hand, NO RISK has been identified for continuing with the current structure and system for the delivery of policing services in the county” (pg. xi, emphasis added). 

This risk alone should be enough reason for the BOS not to move forward with a referendum or any other effort to create a police department. 

The study also concluded the following if a conversion occurs: 

  • There is no guarantee of improved law enforcement services (pg. 94)
  • There is a potential for gaps in services (pg. 94)
  • There is potential for increased crime (pg. 88)
  • The police chief would be under the complete control of the BOS (ppg. viii, 89)
  • The balance of power in Loudoun’s form of government would be changed, removing the checks and balances that exist today (ppg. vi, 16, 89, 92)
  • The staffing impact would include the need for 500 new personnel, and the duplication of certain public safety efforts (pg. 67)
  • The liability for lawsuits would be unlimited for a police department as compared with the $1.5 million cap for the Sheriff’s Office (pg. 77)
  • As deputies are not county employees but employees of a constitutionally elected sheriff, they risk losing their jobs, current assignments, or rank, and would be required to reengage the entire application and hiring process for newly established police officer positions (pg. 73)

The last point would be especially disruptive to the safety of Loudoun’s citizens. A county police department would be an entity starting from scratch, not just a direct transfer from the Sheriff’s Office. LCSO deputies would not automatically transfer into a new department but would need to compete for those positions with no guarantee they would be rehired – or be hired into positions of similar responsibility or rank to those currently held, or the schedules and responsibilities currently enjoyed. In other words, the current and highly effective operational and personnel structure of LCSO, one that has evolved and improved over many years, would be disrupted and undermined. This process would severely impact civilian support staff as well. 

The Fairfax and Prince William Models are Different

In the past, some members of the BOS have cited Fairfax and Prince William counties as examples that justify the establishment of a police department in Loudoun, but the IACP study contradicts any such comparison because both counties have a different, “strong” form of government in which appointed chief administrators have more authority and BOS members have less (pgs. 14-16). This is not the case in Loudoun, which operates under Virginia’s “traditional” form of government with a BOS and County Administrator.

There is no comparable jurisdiction in the Commonwealth of Virginia with a traditional form of government that also incorporates a countywide police department (pg. 14). As such, if Loudoun County were to establish a police department, the Board of Supervisors would have total control over “both the executive and legislative functions” of law enforcement (pg. 16). The checks and balances that exist today, including the annual budget appropriation from the BOS to the Sheriff’s Office, would disappear and the BOS would not only have budget authority but also the right to select and direct the police chief, create ordinances, dictate policy, and direct every aspect of law enforcement (pgs. 90-91). However, in April 2021, the option of changing its local form of government from “traditional” to “strong” to appropriately accommodate a potential conversion to a police department was presented to the BOS but was immediately rejected (pg. vi). 

LCSO is Committed to Excellence in Service

LCSO is a premier, accredited, and nationally recognized law enforcement agency that prides itself on continuously seeking to improve law enforcement services and public safety. This too is reflected in the IACP study, including the following:

  • IACP validated LCSO’s Sheriff’s Office vs. Police Department study (pg. 7) (Click Here to Read the Study)
  • IACP confirmed the overall success of LCSO and its law enforcement services (ppg. vi, 32, 86)
  • IACP highlighted LCSO’s active community engagement (ppg. iv, 23, 86, 129)
  • IACP validated LCSO’s high citizen approval ratings (pg. 32) and low crime rates (pg. 28)

The IACP study recommended eight areas that might be improved in the furtherance of effective law enforcement (pg. 147). Several have already been initiated by LCSO, some require additional funding by the BOS, and others can be addressed at little-to-no cost.

Conversion Does Not Equal Reform

A section of the IACP report is dedicated to the proposition that conversion to a police department “does not equate to reform” (pg. 92). 

A further explanation is cited twice in the report, with the authors noting that in the context of “criminal justice reform” there will always be ways to improve. Deciding to form a police department “would not be a ‘reform,’ but rather a policy decision focusing on the balance of decision-making power between the Board and the Sheriff” (pg. 92).

Sheriff Chapman’s Conclusions and Priorities

Upon reviewing the IACP report, Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman reiterated his opposition to the establishment of a police department and the costs and risks associated with it. Sheriff Chapman agrees with the IACP’s “Key Findings” that the BOS is presented with an opportunity to better allocate available funding to address the county’s mental health crisis (ppg. xi, 94, 124).

“Over the next few years, the funding priorities for public safety in Loudoun should be focused on expanding our mental health resources and helping our citizens directly, not paying consultants and spending hundreds of millions of dollars to do things with no tangible benefit,” said Chapman.

Chapman cited the benefit of opening Loudoun’s first Crisis Intervention Team Assessment Center in 2015 and noted that local behavioral health services require additional resources to assist those with the greatest need. 

“Instead of putting Loudoun County through the unnecessary cost and risk of replacing LCSO with a police department, we should be talking about providing more resources to help LCSO, county mental health and substance abuse services, and others to support our youth and adults in crisis, including a facility that provides a safe and supportive environment pending their transfer to a hospital or other location,” Chapman said.

Chapman also noted that in addition to the $500,000 cost already incurred by Loudoun taxpayers for the IACP study, the Sheriff’s Office spent approximately $150,000 in personnel resources to compile the information required by the study, and that’s before the projected $307 million cost of a conversion. 

Lastly, Chapman noted the LCSO’s ability to recruit certified officers from neighboring police departments due to the constitutional structure and opportunities offered within the LCSO – over 50 within the past two years.

LCSO is committed to continuing to provide premier law enforcement services and keeping all citizens and visitors safe. Anyone with questions or concerns or who wishes to discuss the impact of converting to a police department is encouraged to contact the LCSO or your BOS representative at [email protected].

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