Loudoun County will move ahead with a study to examine whether it should consider creating a police department and shift duties away from the sheriff’s office.
Democrats on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors argue that establishing a police department and moving away from the sheriff’s office is worth considering. However, Republicans have fired back, calling the idea an expensive power grab.
Board members say the national focus on law enforcement reform sparked by the death of George Floyd has inspired the move. But many in the community, including Republican County Sheriff Mike Chapman, are opposed to the idea.
After hours of testimony and discussion on Tuesday, the board decided to move ahead with a study on the possibility of creating a police department. That study must be complete by April 2021.
Loudoun has an elected sheriff, but not a police department overseen by county officials. It is the largest county in Virginia without a police department.
A We Back Blue rally was organized to support Republican Sheriff Chapman and his office on Tuesday (although Loudoun deputies don't wear blue). The group is opposed to the idea of creating a police department, which would take over most law enforcement duties.
"We have a sheriff who is elected by the people, and he answers directly to the people and not some board and their political persuasion, and we’d like to keep it that way," Geary Higgins told News4 at the rally.
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The contentious community debate began earlier this month when some Democrats on the county board proposed putting a referendum on the November ballot to ask voters if they want a police department.
The sheriff points to a 100-page study he’s already done and says making the change is too expensive. Chapman estimates it will cost $20 million at the outset.
He accuses the Democrat-controlled board of a power grab.
"We have one of the most successful sheriff's offices in the nation, we've got citizen satisfaction through the roof, we've got the lowest crime rate in the region," Chapman said. "Why would you want to disrupt something that's working so well, unless it's to exercise complete power and control over that?"
But some residents who support a police department study say it’s the sheriff who is worried about power.
"When someone calls something a power grab, he means, 'Don’t take my power,'" Julia Holcomb told the board.