Local Law Enforcement Leaders Address Crime Commission to Review Progress, Challenges.
Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman, Purcellville Police Chief Cynthia McAlister and Leesburg Police Chief Gregory Brown spoke at the sixth annual State of Law Enforcement forum hosted by the Loudoun Crime Commission on Jan. 13 at Belmont Country Club. All three said their communities were safe places to live, and that crime had decreased despite challenges with the recruitment and retention of sworn staff.
Chapman said Loudoun experienced a 16 percent decrease in crime between 2012 and 2015, and that it was the second year in a row the county had the lowest crime rate in the DC area. He also mentioned that Loudoun was named the happiest county in America by Forbes.
“I like to think that’s because of the work we do, but my wife likes to remind me of the wineries,” Chapman said.
Chapman also notified the ongoing challenges of recruiting new deputies, suggesting that some of this was related to national issues of policing. He said police generally have been unfairly maligned, with too many people jumping to conclusions about officers without knowing all the facts. McAlister and Brown echoed this point of view.
McAlister said a quarter of the positions in her department were open. Not only does it take time to find quality candidates and then train them, but many are hesitant to join because of an increased perception of risk, she said. McAlister told of one recruit who called her the day he was supposed to start to say he and his wife had decided the job was too dangerous, thanks in part to news coverage of police officers shot in the line of duty.
Brown, who just completed his the first 100 days as Leesburg’s chief, said that competition for law enforcement staff in greater Washington area contributes to the recruitment and retention problem. He cited other metropolitan police departments as well as federal agencies.
All three also touched on the heroin and opioid epidemic in Virginia.
More people are dying of opioid overdoses than car accidents, Chapman said. He said agencies are working together to attack the problem from multiple fronts.
“We know we can’t arrest our way out of the problem,” Chapman said.
McAlister and Brown both stressed the importance of community policing, and making sure police are transparent and accessible, to continue cultivating good relationships with the public. By being accessible and transparent, police officers can reduce crime, reduce the fear of crime and empower the community, Brown said.
Middleburg Police Chief Anthony Panebianco was scheduled to speak too, but was unable to attend due to an injury from a car accident.