Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman offered an in depth exclusive interview with The Bull Elephant answering a number of direct questions about his first 3 years as well as discussing the LCSO budget, Loudoun crime rates, staff turn-over, mental health and important initiatives.[read_more]
My Step Up plan revolved around a vision of improving service, technology, efficiency and professionalism. When Loudoun placed their trust in me to move the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office forward, the first element of implementing the Step Up program was to assemble an experienced and diverse leadership team.
That was no easy task. I knew I needed to develop a team that would not be tied to the same old way of doing things. I felt that blending institutional knowledge with proven outside leadership experience would bring compliment of diversity, new ideas and energy. Unfortunately, this also meant that some of the leadership team I inherited would have to change.
Quickly, the process demonstrated success. Within the first 100 days, we announced our initial accomplishments in each of the Step Up areas. First, we expanded service through community outreach and by securing the Western Loudoun Station (to greater personalize service in the County’s western end). Next, we improved technology by enhancing social media with website upgrades. This enabled improved community notifications and community-law enforcement interactive capabilities. Next, we increased efficiency through restructuring our patrol schedules. Finally, we elevated organizational professionalism through improved training; enhanced relationships with our state, local and federal counterparts; and we ensured that every citizen complaint received was properly and thoroughly addressed.
Q: So, if I go door to door, most folks are simply concerned with crime rates and their safety. Could you address this?
It is rightfully on the minds of our citizens and a reflection of our success. In my first year, we saw a slight decline in our overall crime rates. In my second year, 2013, we saw our overall crime rate drop another 18%. And this year, in comparison to last year at the same time, our overall crime rate has dropped another 23%. That is remarkable, and I attribute that directly to the diligent work of our deputies and our civilian staff.
Q: What are some of the significant changes and accomplishments over the past three years?
Our capacity and innovation to handle difficult situations has greatly improved. An example is our Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training. CIT consists of a 40 hour training program that enables deputies to deescalate potentially volatile situations involving the mentally ill. CIT also provides deputies with referral options in the field that enable us to immediately direct families to resources that can help them get through their crisis situations. The concept of training our deputies in CIT was first suggested to me by my wife Ann, who is a family to family facilitator for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). This program, which originated in Memphis, TN over 20 years ago, had been employed nationally and even by other local law enforcement organizations, but not by ours. It was clearly time for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office to become engaged in this area.
As we learned with Virginia Senator Creigh Deeds’ son, mental health issues can have tragic consequences. Confronting this crisis head on has been a priority of mine, especially considering the volume of calls we receive annually involving the mentally ill and the response time devoted (several hours) to each and every call. Most involve transports to hospitals for evaluations in addition to providing security for the hospital staff handling those individuals. So far, we have conducted five classes, trained 60 deputies, and also trained 100% of our dispatchers (who can often identify these situations and dispatch CIT trained deputies).
Over the past two years, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, by being proactive in CIT, has become a nationally recognized leader. This past year, we received the Virginia 2014 Deputy of the Year Award and the NAMI Northern Virginia 2014 CIT Deputy of the Year Award. The Major County Sheriffs’ Association requested that I chair a panel at the National Sheriffs’ Conference on how to develop a strong, interactive mental health program by identifying and incorporating state and local assets. In addition, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) contacted me to prepare an article on CIT within Loudoun County. That article was featured in Police Chief Magazine’s September edition. I was also asked to represent this organization by speaking on Capitol Hill in support of a bi-partisan Excellence in Mental Health Act.
We also became an internationally recognized leader in Internet Safety Training for parents and children. We received the IACP’s Webber Seavey Award, the National Association of Police Organizations “Top Cops” award, and the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association 2014 Deputy of the Year Award for this program.
Further, we have pursued (in addition to our enforcement stance) a very proactive and preventive program when it comes to drug education and awareness. For example, a popular program that appeared on the chopping block when I took over was DARE, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program. Having my own children attend Loudoun County Public Schools, I knew first hand of the program’s success. I was convinced the missing link was continuation in the middle school level– a time when children are most vulnerable to peer pressure. So without any cost to the County, we trained our Middle School Resource Officers to reinforce the lessons our children previously learned while adding a new segment to deal with additional pressures.
We partnered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to inform parents about drug dangers their children currently face, what they should look for and how they can help prevent drug abuse by their children. As drug problems constantly change, it is important parents are aware about the resurgence of heroin and the use and availability of synthetic drugs like “N-Bomb,” “K-2,” and “Spice.”
We also stress the prevalence and availability of pharmaceutical drugs, what children look for, and what parents can do to monitor prescriptions that may be in the home. We have initiated a prescription drug enforcement and education program where we partner with doctors, pharmacists, and other prescribers to educate them on how to detect prescription fraud and when fraud is detected work with our LE partners to investigate and prosecute these cases. We have also stepped up our enforcement on the most critical drug problems we face, like the dramatic increase in heroin use and heroin laced with fentanyl. This deadly combination has resulted in multiple overdoses throughout Loudoun County.
In response to a recent surge in phone scam activities targeting senior citizens, our crime prevention unit recently launched a comprehensive educational program for our seniors to help them protect themselves against these predators. The program involves LCSO presentations at senior citizen centers, press notifications, outreach through our website, and a county-wide distribution of pamphlets.
We have also been recognized for our efforts in traffic enforcement. We received the Governor’s Transportation Safety Award in the category of Youth Traffic Safety in partnership with the Loudoun County Public Schools for our response to the updated Virginia law making texting-while-driving a primary offense. We were also recognized this past year by the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for Excellence in Community Service and Public Safety.
Q: What about general turn over—is the LCSO an attractive place to work or do we lose staff to other jurisdictions.
We have the largest full-service Sheriff’s Office in the Commonwealth of Virginia, with approximately 750 sworn and civilian members. The reputation of the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office has become even stronger over the past three years with attrition rates far below the County average (8% v. 10.9%). Additionally, we have experienced only one grievance in the past three years (and that grievance was later determined by an independent panel to be unfounded). Low attrition and no grievances are pretty good by any standard.
Q: What about the turnover in leadership both when you took office and recently?
When I was elected in 2011, it was with a mandate for substantive change as the prior administration did not keep up with state-of-the-art police practices, the County’s rapid growth, and its law enforcement needs. In order to facilitate prompt, positive change, I structured a leadership team with a balance of institutional knowledge, outside law enforcement knowledge, and proven leadership experience. I felt this diversity would provide me with the robust innovative ideas and capabilities required to address ever-changing law enforcement needs and community expectations.
Unfortunately, this also meant that key positions would be affected. As sheriff, all sworn employees serve “at will.” During a changing administration, I have the right and authority to reinstate or not reinstate deputies for another four years. Early in my administration, I did not reinstate eleven of around 550 total deputies. Of those, all but four were retirement eligible. Two of those were given the opportunity to return to the Sheriff’s Office to qualify for their retirement, while the remaining two became employed in other law enforcement capacities. Another returned to the job and has since been promoted twice.
Since that time, no employee has been dismissed from the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office. Of course, we have experienced retirements and resignations over the past three years, but our ratios fall well below the County averages as a whole.
By establishing this leadership team, I ensured that the Step Up vision translated into goals and measurable objectives, and that these objectives were – and continue to be met. My leadership style is to hold all staff accountable, including our most senior managers, our civilian employees, and our field deputies. While it makes some uncomfortable, it can also reveal strengths and weaknesses over time. Performance is not a one-time thing – it must constantly be evaluated to ensure that positive performance is continuously maintained and that changing needs are routinely addressed.
Q: When you first began campaigning you held periodic meetings with the public and listened to their concerns, complaints, desires and stories. Do you still do this?
Yes, regularly. I meet with Loudoun residents to solicit their input on how we can continue to improve our services to the community. I attend quarterly meetings at our four stations throughout the County, conduct Coffees with the Sheriff, attend DARE graduations, Internet Safety Presentations and Scam and Fraud presentations, and often engage our community by responding to concerns directly by email, phone or personally.
Q: Prior to you taking office, one complaint was that the previous administration would not fight for its staff. In what ways have you changed this?
Since I have been in office, I fought for and secured night differential for deputies working through the evenings in some of our harshest circumstances—a benefit surrounding jurisdictions experienced for decades, but our deputies lacked. I secured a stipend for Field and Corrections Training Officers. Finally, with exclusive input from the field, I restructured the Master Deputy program (MDP) – making it competitive and reward based. This resulted in 5% raises for 229 of our deputies, over and above any other compensation. The MDP also enabled us to be flexible (as all deputies, regardless of specialty, are paid on the same scale) and provided us with the ability to adapt to changing situations and adjust squads accordingly. It is important for us as an organization to regularly assess why we do what we do – not to just do things “because we’ve always done it that way.”
Also, by challenging the County on our vacancy savings rate, I was able to secure an additional 21 positions and $1.9 M that we should have received, but never did. This enabled us to more adequately staff our divisions and keep up with an ever growing county. In three years, we have added over 40 positions (both civilian and sworn) to our organization.
Finally, I am working with the County and the Board of Supervisors to upgrade our retirement multiplier. Our current rate is 1.7 per year, while most surrounding jurisdictions – including departments within our own County (Purcellville and Leesburg) have a retirement multiplier of 1.85. Over time, that adds up significantly when calculating retirement. A higher multiplier makes surrounding jurisdictions appear more attractive to recruits and can provide incentives our employees to relocate. To attract and retain the best qualified candidates, we must always be examining ways to compete with our area counterparts.
Q: Let’s talk budget. What happened in the first year and what is the situation now?
Despite Loudoun’s continued growth and the innovations and improvements we’ve put in place, I have been able to return over $4M in budgeted monies to the County over the past three years. In 2012, our office was accused of a deficit in the overtime budget but that was also the year we encountered the Derecho storm, numerous Presidential and Presidential candidate visits, and the collateral effects of Hurricane Sandy. We were short less than $500 K that year, not the $2.9 M that was initially (and wrongly) reported in the media. However, we more than made up for that difference in the years that followed and I remain committed to tough fiscal management and respect for the Loudoun taxpayer.
Q: Why can’t you just use that amount being returned for upgrades, overtime or equipment?
Budgets are complicated and many of our equipment expenditures take a long time to compete, select and process. Fortunately, we are now utilizing an upgraded County Oracle budget system which should make this process easier to track.
Also, we are only allocated $800,000 by the County for overtime expenses. That is about 1/3rd to 1/4th of what our surrounding counties provide. However, unlike those jurisdictions, our overtime budget also includes holiday pay which further negatively skews our actual overtime amounts. The new Oracle system, this March, will reflect overtime actual which should make reporting those expenditures easier to predict, prepare and account for.
Finally, for efficiency, we encourage our squads to adjust hours when possible. This means that if a person, for example, attends training for eight hours, they receive a full twelve hour day off in return. Hours are returned at time and a half compensation. Although we are not required to do this by Commonwealth of Virginia law (VA allows hour for hour flexing), I placed that policy in place to reduce overtime outlay but still provide adequate and fair compensation. Overtime pay on unpredictable situations requiring members to complete an investigation, a vehicle accident or a mental health committal, for example, is still paid out at time and a half. We also pay time and a half for all off duty court appearances.
Q: I recently heard the SWAT and/or Rapid Response Team was placed out of commission?
Not true, but I have reorganized and improved it. The Rapid Response Unit (RRU) has been split into two units and placed in patrol where they can respond to calls and still address special situations. For example, we have them deployed in areas where we have had a recent rash of robberies. We also re-evaluated our criteria for SWAT deployments. Under the former administration and the first year of mine, we maintained the second lowest crime rate of our 22 Metropolitan Council of Government jurisdictions, but routinely had the highest rate of SWAT call outs. We reviewed our criteria for deployment following my first year in office and determined that SWAT was significantly over-deployed.
We now send RRU members as first responders to potential SWAT “call outs” as assessors (and to engage if immediately necessary) and we instituted a required matrix to ensure particular elements were met before an entire 26 member SWAT team would be asked to respond. This resulted in a reduction of SWAT call responses from 53 in 2012, to 16 in 2013, to 4 in 2014. This comprehensive process ensures reasonable responses to situations and has significantly reduced the amount of overtime monies we previously paid out in this area.
Q: There is talk that DUI arrests are down in Loudoun, is this positive or negative?
Statistics should always be read in the larger context. Prevention, education and enforcement over the years have had a major impact on DUI arrests. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Statistics, there has been an overall drop in arrest rates nationally for DUIs. From 2010 to 2013, for example, that decrease amounted to 17.3%. In Loudoun County, our rates decreased 12.6% during the same time period.
Considering that the threshold has dropped over the years from blood alcohol content (BAC) 1.5 to 1.2 to .08 in most places, the impact of campaigns to drink responsibly, identify designated drivers, or utilize cabs or other services to avoid driving has had a major, positive impact. This is another example of how a comprehensive approach (enforcement, education and prevention) produces greater success than simply trying to arrest your way out of problems.
This progress, I feel, is a good thing. Our DUI statistics have also reduced over the past couple of years, commensurate with the national averages. We continue to conduct DUI checkpoints at the same rate as before, but have found fewer drivers driving under the influence. As a reflection of our ongoing commitment, we were recognized this past year by the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for Excellence in Community Service and Public Safety.
Q: You implemented a cold case initiative, how has that been going or progressed?
This is an important effort and one I’m proud to have initiated. Our Cold Case Squad was designed to ensure that cases placed on the back burner were not forgotten. They are referred to as cold cases because leads evaporated during the time of the active investigations. As busy as our Criminal Investigative Division is, I felt if we didn’t designate a few detectives to remain vigilant on older cases, family members of many victims would be forgotten about. We have had some success with case closures by this unit, and will continue to ensure that none of the families of these victims who tragically lost their lives are forgotten about.
We currently have 20 cases assigned to our Cold Case Unit. We have reviewed all unsolved cases dating back to the 1960’s. In each of these cases, we have taken a new look with a fresh set of eyes at the case files and evidence. We have re-interviewed witnesses, associates, friends and family members. With the advance in forensic examinations, we have resubmitted evidence. We have followed leads as far away as North Carolina and Florida and published bulletins, all with the hopes of gaining new information on these crimes.
Q: There was controversy over removing School Resource Officers (SROs) but that changed—how is that program working?
The events of Columbine and Sandy Hook prove the importance of having a law enforcement presence at our schools. Early in 2012, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office met with senior school officials to discuss safety and security procedures in our county’s public schools. We all agreed on the importance of School Resource Officers (SROs). Our relationship with the Loudoun County Public Schools (administrators and teachers) continues to improve and we regularly discuss ways to better address safety issues at our schools.
Unlike many surrounding counties, we also teach DARE. The added benefit of this is that DARE officers are stationed in elementary schools, with each covering about 5 to 6 schools. This provides deputies with knowledge of school layouts, school administrators, teachers and students in the event something tragic might take place. It provides an added measure of security above and beyond simply teaching the DARE program.
Finally, we were the first law enforcement entity in Virginia, following the Sandy Hook tragedy, to conduct a full scale active shooter exercise at one of our high schools. This involved school administrators, the teaching staff, Loudoun County Fire and Rescue, the Virginia State Police, Purcellville Police, the Leesburg Police and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office. This coordinated activity provided valuable lessons and was beneficial to all involved. We continue to communicate regularly with our local counterparts and the LCPS Director of School Security, Suzanne Devlin, on how we can continue to improve our emergency response capabilities.
Q: You have brought in staff from outside agencies such as FBI and DEA… can you describe why this was done and what impact it has made?
A diverse staff with institutional knowledge and proven leadership capabilities is what I was seeking in order to generate new ideas and improve our relationships with law enforcement across the board. By bringing two former senior executives from the FBI and DEA, respectively, (both with proven histories of diverse leadership) we were able to greatly enhance our relationships with our federal partners.
These enhanced relationships have resulted in our ability to obtain information not normally shared at the local level, and have increased our ability to obtain equipment and additional funding through asset forfeitures. Further, our involvement in multiple task forces brings another dimension to our investigations and serves a solid training exercise to our deputies and detectives who may have never worked investigations at that level, scope or complexity. After serving on task forces with the DEA or FBI, these detectives are able to implement the extra knowledge they obtained and educate other investigators within our agency.
Q: What does the future hold for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office and your next term?
Loudoun County continues to expand in both size and diversity at rates unheard of in most of the United States. We continue to attract major businesses, will soon have a Metro Station, and facilitate most of the internet communications worldwide. We have a highly educated county with adults holding BS or BA degrees in numbers close to 60%. We also routinely rank highly as the wealthiest (or one of the wealthiest) counties in the nation.
With this type of growth and diversity, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office is poised, under my leadership, to remain adaptable, flexible, and to meet the needs of our citizens. We are no longer simply a farming community with a simple mandate. Yet, we still have to meet the needs of our farming and rural communities in the western portion of the county, while engaging with the cultural diversity we find in the densely populated eastern and southern portions of the county.
I look forward to a second term as Sheriff, and to earn the trust of Loudoun’s citizens every day. I will continue to address the County’s most pressing law enforcement needs, prepare for the future, and maintain the best possible workforce that can adjust to our changing needs. And, as promised when I began my campaign four years ago, I will do this by continually improving service, technology, efficiency and professionalism.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to add?
No story about a Sheriff’s Office could be complete without emphasizing how proud I am of the men and women who work here. I am most fortunate to be a member of this great organization and this ever-improving workforce. Recently, I asked my administrative assistant to retrieve all of the letters and emails of compliment we received over a two year period. She noted that we had over 360! That’s almost a compliment every other day! These communications also demonstrate the positive impact we are having on our community, and serve as examples of the standard to which I want our office held. We are in the process of establishing a “Compliment Corner” on our website where our citizens as well as internal staff can review the letters and see the great work our LCSO members perform on a daily basis.
Mike Chapman was elected Sheriff, Loudoun County, VA in 2011 and took office January 2012. He directs operations for the largest full-service office in the State of Virginia which handles county-wide law enforcement, the jail and our courts. The Sheriff’s Office employs approximately 750; 600 sworn deputies and 150 civilian personnel. The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office serves a population of 350,000 and an area of 519 square miles. During his three years in office, Sheriff Chapman expanded the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) to include both Elementary and Middle Schools, established a Cold Case squad; enhanced media outreach through integrated technology and a restructured website; introduced on-line reporting; professionalized the Human Resources and hiring processes; and improved training, accountability and efficiency.