Sheriff, Leesburg Police Balk at 911 Efficiency Study

A study to find ways to speed up Loudoun’s 911 calls when seconds count has met resistance from Leesburg Police Chief Greg Brown and backlash from Loudoun Sheriff Mike Chapman.

Today, the county has separate dispatchers for the Combined Fire and Rescue System and the Sheriff’s Office. 911 calls are answered first by fire-rescue dispatchers, and although they operate out of the same room, if the call is a police matter, it must be transferred to a sheriff’s office dispatcher. That can lead to some 911 callers having to answer the same questions more than once and a delay in emergency personnel’s response time.

“Even though the sheriff’s office is located in the same room, it’s still a transfer, so in essence regarding 911 calls it almost doesn’t matter that they’re in the same room,” said Sherri Bush, the lead author of a study on the county’s 911 answering by Federal Engineering.

If they are transferred to the Leesburg Police Department, which also has its own dispatchers, the situation is even more complicated—Leesburg does not use the same computerized system for handling calls as the county, so any notes the county’s dispatchers take on a call don’t go to Leesburg police. Leesburg also has only basic 911 equipment.

“The bigger issue really is for the residents of Leesburg, because they are receiving services that are equivalent to maybe the early ’80s,” Bush said. “Because the call-takers there have nothing when it comes over except for a phone number, and they have to query the callers to find out where they are.”

And in rare cases, callers whose situation or location is uncertain can be transferred back and forth.

As a result, the county-commissioned study has recommended restructuring the Emergency Communications Center where those calls are answered with universal call-takers, who can handle and dispatch 911 calls for fire, rescue, the sheriff’s office, and police.

But County Administrator Tim Hemstreet told the Board of Supervisors’ finance committee last week he could not recommend that—because two of the biggest stakeholders in the study, Sheriff Mike Chapman and Leesburg Police Chief Greg Brown, are opposed.

“If the sheriff doesn’t want to consolidate, then from a practical perspective, I don’t believe that we would have a successful consolidation,” Hemstreet said. “He is very much an important and integral part of the service.”

Chapman has argued that while universal call-takers are indeed the fastest way to answer and dispatch 911 calls, consolidating all those departments’ functions to universal call-takers creates a problem of accountability.

“It might be easy for me to blame the head of emergency management, but really if something goes wrong, I’ll be held accountable as sheriff,” Chapman said.

He has also criticized the study for drawing comparisons to other counties with different forms of government than Loudoun. It can be difficult to compare to other counties—while every Virginia county must elect a sheriff, other large counties similar in size have a police department to handle law enforcement.

However, he said, he is more open to the idea of consolidating all 911 communication under the sheriff’s office. He pointed out that the majority of 911 calls in Loudoun are for police matters.

“Ultimately, if you have a mess up on that—certainly if you had like a school shooting or something, and you had problems with dispatch—it’s going to come back on the sheriff, and therein lies the problem,” Chapman said. “So it’s just a matter of having some ability to coordinate this in a way that is fair.”

Short of consolidation, he has recommended pursuing other technological and process-oriented improvements to 911 call-taking and dispatch.

But Combined Fire-Rescue System Chief Keith Johnson strongly supported the study and its recommendation. He said the challenges in the study cannot be fixed with technological solutions, and that additional training “will not change the technological limitations or the status quo” in the emergency communications center. He said he spoke from his experience both working as a universal call-taker and overseeing emergency communications in Loudoun.

“Notwithstanding significant concerns expressed from other agencies included in the study, Loudoun County Fire and Rescue recognizes there are identified vulnerabilities in the study that should eclipse egocentric concerns—more specifically, the need for universal call-takers and formalized written agreements” between emergency agencies, Johnson said.

The county finance committee sent the issue to a future meeting for more discussion. Meanwhile, the sheriff’s office is working on its own study.

Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said it’s the county’s “responsibility to optimize everything as a system, not the individual departments or entities,” pointing to a massive reorganization of the county’s combined volunteer and professional fire and rescue department during the last board’s term.

“I kind of like the consultant’s recommendations. We’re going to have to talk about that more,” Buona said. “I would like to see a consolidation. I think that’s to the public’s benefit, and the public comes first over the needs of any single department, as far as I’m concerned.”

The disagreement continued after the meeting, according to multiple witnesses. County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), who during the meeting had pressed Chapman on why he hadn’t made improvements already, approached the sheriff to shake hands. According to those witnesses, Chapman replied, “I’m not going to shake your hand,” and when Randall walked away, said, “You get back here.” Randall left the board room.

Asked about the confrontation, Chapman said while he and supervisors sometimes disagree, “we’ll work something out.”

“I give them a lot of credit for the work that they do, but that doesn’t mean that we’re always going to agree on things… That’s what’s good about government, it gives us a chance to hold each other accountable,” Chapman said.

9 thoughts on “Sheriff, Leesburg Police Balk at 911 Efficiency Study

  • 2018-06-18 at 4:47 pm

    “….it’s going to come back on the sheriff, and therein lies the problem.” In summary, Sheriff Chapman cares less about speeding up dispatching procedures that could potentially save lives, because he is more worried about getting blamed for a mishap. It sounds like Sheriff Chapman chooses reelection over the safety of his constituents. Scary.

  • 2018-06-18 at 4:54 pm

    Chapman doesn’t want to combine it because it takes power away from him. He’s all for it if he can control everything.

    “He has also criticized the study for drawing comparisons to other counties with different forms of government than Loudoun. It can be difficult to compare to other counties—while every Virginia county must elect a sheriff, other large counties similar in size have a police department to handle law enforcement.”

    An easy fix is to get rid of the Sherrif and get a County Department.

  • 2018-06-19 at 8:53 am

    Hello, voters. Chapman is pretty clear here that he does not want the job. When someone tells you who they are, believe them.

  • 2018-06-19 at 10:11 am

    I don”t understand the slant of this story. Let’s review the facts:

    1. Most calls are for law enforcement in county-governed areas. That means the LCSO is going to be responding to most of the calls.

    2. The LCSO has the advanced equipment to interface with the necessary systems. It is only the town police departments that don’t have the capability.

    So why in the world would we consolidate a system under one of the smaller units again? We should consolidate the system under the sheriff’s office. In fact, it would make sense to get rid of the Leesburg Police Dept altogether. If you are unhappy with the system under the LCSO, you can vote the sheriff out. If you are unhappy with the system under the BOS’ management, it will be among umpteen issues that influence voters in the BOS election (after zoning, grandstanding proclamations, pay, overfunding LCPS, etc.).

    Let’s remember the recent school shooting in Florida. The smaller law enforcement group arrived on the scene and hid behind barricades. The larger law enforcement entity properly trained arrived and immediately engaged the shooter and ended the incident. Don’t we want the large organizations – LCSO – coordinating ALL emergency management incidents at the initial reception of the call?

  • 2018-06-19 at 11:04 am

    Because having a CLEO accountable only to polticans is sooo much better than having a CLEO accountable directly to the people.

    Be careful of what you wish for.

  • 2018-06-20 at 3:30 pm

    Chapman is 100% correct. If you are going to consolidate, LCSO should own the system since they have the greatest amount of responsibility. That’s a no-brainer.

    Under no circumstances should we ever get rid of the Sheriff’s Dept. and the directly-elected sheriff for a police force. This is a great example where an independent sheriff can tell the BoS to go pound sand. I don’t want another groveling police chief sucking up to a Board. As I look around the U.S. and see politicians everywhere trying to get their tentacles into police and judiciary, I am even more emboldened to maintain an elected sheriff.

    I’ll second SGP’s remarks. If this is causing problems, then let’s look deeper. On the surface, Leesburg’s antiquation is the problem. Leesburg doesn’t have to have a police department. As a town in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the police force is optional. They can fold the police force and then have LCSO provide service to Leesburg.

  • 2018-06-21 at 4:55 pm

    Why in the world would you get rid of the leesburg police department? Chapman cant keep enough man power to cover the county as it is let alone adding the small towns. loudoun now needs to pull numbers and see how many qualified people have left the sheriffs office because chapman, he is a want to be sheriff and not a real leader and manager. Time for loudoun residents to wake up and vote in a new qualified sheriff

  • 2018-06-22 at 10:29 am

    Why get rid of the Leesburg police department?:

    1. Exhibit 1: this article. Apparently Leesburg can’t keep up with the times and is putting the community at risk.
    2. Stupid squabbles that Leesburg unnecessarily creates with the County such as who will fund a resource officer in a Leesburg school. If there is no Leesburg police department, then there is nothing to argue and LCSO will handle it.
    3. Axe the Leesburg police department and lower Leesburg taxes.
    4. Leesburg citizens would have a say regarding who the top cop is because they would elect their sheriff instead of having the Leesburg cabal (aka Town Council) and their political pettiness pick and choose.

    All the complaints I hear about Chapman come from “insiders” who don’t like how it is run. I get the impression they are looking for a “players coach” who is going to coddle them like numerous other public managers. From the outside, as a Loudoun citizen, Chapman is doing a fine job.

  • 2018-06-23 at 3:41 pm

    Chapman was a back office federal bureaucrat in the DEA, more interested in advancing his own career by jealously guarding his power and influence, at the expense of the mission. He carried that mindset to Booz Allen and later, the LCSO. Go onto the Loudoun government website and look up the County Board of Supervisor’s video meeting on this subject from June 18th. Chapman gets schooled by the Fire/Rescue Chief (who actually knows what he is talking about) and several board members. This arrogant behavior from the Sheriff continues to have serious consequences that the BOS must address. Put aside party differences and do the right thing.

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