Leesburg Police Chief Gregory Brown celebrated his first anniversary as the head of the town’s police force in much the way those who know him best would expect: planning ahead for what he wants to accomplish in his second year.
It’s been a busy year for Brown, who joined the town’s ranks after 19 years at the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office. And it’s been a year spent more out in front than behind his desk, becoming a regular at community events, chatting with residents and getting to know the department’s staff as well.
It’s that last point that took up more of his year than he initially thought. Brown made it a goal to meet individually with every member of his first-line staff. He set out to accomplish that in six months, but it almost the entire year. It was all toward the goal of making sure every member of his staff knew they had a voice, and a value.
Brown’s aim for the community at large has been similar, and is ongoing.
“We’ve really been focusing on making sure every segment of the community feels they have a seat at the table. They can walk through our doors any time. No matter what race, creed, gender, color, religion, or political beliefs. We are here to serve everybody,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that message was persistent and consistent with the community. We’ve made some pretty good strides.”
Brown noted that the department’s community policing model was strong even before he came, with all 17 member agencies of the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Academy sending their recruits to the county seat to take notes. But Brown hopes to bolster the program with more community outreach. The public information officer position was reinstituted, with Officer Sam Shenouda at the helm, and quarterly community meetings are planned to keep residents informed. The ride-along program was also rebuilt, giving community members age 18 and older the chance to see firsthand the department’s interactions with residents.
Increasing officer presence and bringing the department back up to full staffing have been some of Brown’s major priorities. The department was short 18 staff members a year ago; that number is now down to eight. Brown hopes to have the department fully staffed by the end of next year. He credits the creation of the Supplemental Recruiting Team, made up of 14 staff members from varying backgrounds, for increasing the number of applicants to the department.
“The best projected image of the Leesburg Police Department was representing out there. That has a lot to do with the numbers we’ve seen,” he said.
The department also brought back its motorcycle unit to two, with the goal to grow to four in the next two years, Brown said. The K-9 Unit will be fully staffed by the spring with 3 teams of trained dogs and officers.
Training has been just as big of a deal in Brown’s first year as staffing. Almost every employee has received training in the Fair and Impartial Policing Program, and 67 percent of patrol officers have been certified in Crisis Intervention Training. Tackling officer resiliency has been just as important, and launch of a Peer Support Team and the chaplaincy program are there to ensure officers remain healthy mentally, physically, and emotionally, Brown said.
The department is phasing in body cameras and adding cameras in patrol cars, with the goal of having all patrol officers and cars equipped with the technology.
The department will “revamp” its emergency preparedness plan, which outlines best practices for law enforcement during natural disasters, weather-related emergencies and road closures.
“We are putting together a comprehensive plan to make sure we can provide the citizens of the Town of Leesburg the best response as a town in general to make sure we can respond and return them to a sense of normalcy as soon as we can,” Brown said.
The elephant in the room remains the department’s 20-year-old headquarters on Plaza Street. An expansion of the building is listed in the town’s Capital Improvements Program as a future priority project, but there is no funding or timetable assigned.
“We’re maxed out,” Brown said. The headquarters opened with 47 employees, and the department is now authorized for 103.
“We’ll be working with staff and the Town Council to weigh our options, see what type of things we can do to maximize our space,” he said.
On crime reduction, Brown said the opioid crisis is a top priority. There were nine opioid-related deaths in town in 2017.
“That’s concerning to me,” he said.
Leesburg ranks as the 11th safest jurisdiction in Virginia, Brown noted, “but I want to be in the top 10.” Addressing quality-of-life issues through the department’s community policing approach is a big strategy towards that goal.
He uses the example of a man who told him recently of an abandoned couch on his property, and he sent an officer out to help remove it. It’s about addressing quality of life issues before they become crime problems, Brown said.
“You have to look at these things as a progressive issue. If we address these issues quickly—keep the neighborhood clean, secure our belongings to make sure we don’t invite unwanted individuals onto our property, securing our homes, keeping the grass cut, by being a part of the solution when you see something calling [the department],” he said. “All those things is what makes Leesburg a safe community.”
Brown is quick to share the credit for the department’s accomplishment so far.
“Leesburg is fortunate to have the level of commitment I’ve observed in my year here,” he said. “These folks love this town and they don’t hesitate to step up and do the right thing, even when it comes out of their own pockets. To me that just reaffirms that I’m in the right place and at the right time.”
And although the past year has been exhausting at times, Brown said he’s just as excited now as he was when he launched his career 21 years ago.
“I’ve got just as much, if not more, energy than when I walked across the stage at the academy in 1996. I don’t see myself burning out anytime soon,” he said. “I’m excited. I draw from the energies of my officers. I see that excitement and it gives me that extra push.”