A resident-led task force established to study whether the Leesburg Police Department, and the town at large, would benefit from the formation of a police advisory commission had a simple answer—no.
Not long after the events of the summer of 2020 set off a nationwide reckoning on race amid high-profile instances of police brutality, many governments throughout the U.S. looked into establishing oversight panels to provide another layer of scrutiny to law enforcement agencies. The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation that provided that opportunity to counties, but not towns, all but ending the likelihood that such a body would exist in Leesburg. Instead, council members last fall convened a seven-member task force to explore whether an advisory commission, something that is allowed for in state code, would be a benefit to the town department.
The task force consisted of residents with experience in law enforcement and practicing attorneys. Amy Harber, a task force member and attorney, presented the Town Council with the task force’s recommendations during Monday’s work session. She said the task force unanimously agreed that an advisory commission was not needed, and cited several reasons for that conclusion. Those include the extremely low number of internal affairs complaints made by both officers and town residents; the department’s commitment to professionalism and transparency; and the department’s continued efforts at forging positive community relationships. Harber pointed in particular to the many community events hosted by the police department, and the different ways officers interact with neighborhoods and community organizations.
On the first point, Harber noted that in 2020 there were only 15 internal affairs complaints, with many of those coming from officers themselves.
“That’s a fairly significant statistic,” she said. The fact that the majority of those complaints were from fellow officers who reported on colleagues’ conduct “speaks volumes.”
“Our task force found that, as a whole, the Leesburg Police Department and its officers are motivated to police itself against officer complaints or wrongdoing,” she said.
In considering its recommendations, the task force received several presentations from department and other town staff members on a variety of subjects, including current police policy and procedures. While the task force did not conclude that an advisory commission would be beneficial, Harber did cite some areas of funding focus for the Town Council.
To continue to promote transparency, Harber said the council may want to consider employing a second FOIA officer for the department. She noted that the department’s current FOIA officer, Officer Michael Drogin, also the department’s public information officer, spends hundreds of hours responding to citizen FOIA requests. Harber also said a position dedicated to researching and applying for law enforcement-specific grants could be a boon to the department.
The task force also recommended returning vacancy savings from budgeted but unfilled positions to the department, and increased efforts in recruitment and retention.