He campaigned in 2011 on a platform “to move the Sheriff’s Office into the 21st century,” and Mike Chapman says the many innovations he brought have done exactly that. But Loudoun County’s sheriff says there have been contingents within both the Republican Party and the Sheriff’s Office who continue to see him as an unwelcome change.
Chapman says, from the naysayers’ viewpoint: “Back then I was the outsider; I’m still the outsider.”
In addition to making personnel changes that upset the “old guard” when he first came into office, Chapman thinks his approach to bringing problems to light, and inviting outside agencies to ensure objectivity, has not gone over well with everyone.
“I’m the one that uncovers things, and it ticks them off. When we caught up with the asset forfeiture accounts being changed back in 2008, as soon as we found there was an anomaly I called in the state police to investigate.”
Regarding certain conflicts – including on issues where he has taken an opposing position from that of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office – Chapman has observed that there is an old guard within the local government for whom maintaining control – “the power thing” – is paramount.
“But for me, it’s not. It’s just about doing the right thing. And when you have a situation like money disappearing, I don’t want there to be any suspicion we are trying to cover anything up. I want to have somebody from the outside come in. They are not used to that in this county. In many ways it’s still backwards.”
Chapman’s challenger for the Republican nomination, Eric Noble, believes Chapman has not been forward-thinking enough, and cites the expanding heroin problem in Loudoun County as evidence.
“If you were in this agency in 2012 you saw it coming, and that it was a freight train getting a little bit closer in 2013, and by 2014 it was a freight train right in front of your face.”
At the same time, Noble has referred positively to earlier eras (Noble served in the Sheriff’s Office for 27 years) and to previous Sheriff’s Isom and Simpson. In the past, Noble says, the agency had more of a local focus, had higher morale, and deputies were more empowered to make decisions.
In fact, Steve Simpson made a public show of support for Noble two weeks ago at the candidates’ debate in Leesburg, and Simpson recently rejoined the Loudoun County Republican Committee (LCRC) after having quit the party in 2007 to run as an Independent after losing the GOP nomination.
If Noble wins, should Loudoun County residents expect a return to more of an Isom/Simpson model of law enforcement? Noble says no:
“I have all the respect in the world for John Isom and Steve Simpson. But just like Mike Chapman, what they did not do, and what this sheriff does not do, is engage in strategic processes …. Understanding the environment that you’re operating in now, more importantly, understanding the environment that you’re going to be operating in three and five years from now. And when you do that, you’re looking at the totality of your community. You’re looking at issues like the demographics of your community. The growth of your community. The crime trends that may occur.
While he is pleased to have Simpson’s support, Noble wants to more the agency forward, not backward.
“I can’t say that Steve Simpson’s immune to criticism because he’s not….Particularly in his last term, he was isolated from some of the decisions that were being made by his commanders, and they weren’t good decisions. And you could speculate, maybe after 12 years and getting up on 16 years, maybe the fire in the belly is diminished somewhat? Whatever the reason, you become – and he did become – insulated from some of the issues that were going on. And so, there was time for change, and I think a lot of people agreed that there was time for a change.”
Noble says he does not blame Chapman for his background, which is “that of a federal bureaucrat,” and claims the past three years as evidence it is a poor fit for local policing. Noble believes “you want somebody who is forward-leaning [and] proactive. You don’t want to be reactive.”
The proactive versus reactive theme is one Noble has been hammering at on the campaign trail.
Chapman’s take: “That statement is ridiculous.”
He suggests Noble did not pay attention during his final three years on the force.
“It’s kind of interesting he’d say I was reactive. You can’t have the accomplishments without being proactive. We submitted 123-plus innovations and achievements to the county over the past three years. That’s extremely proactive. That’s why we have meetings every morning. That’s why we discuss the best way forward. That’s why we’re always looking for new solutions.”
Noble says that in addition to the heroin problem and the arrival of the Silver Line, the Sheriff’s Office under Chapman is missing another dangerous development in the County.
“I’m talking to the SROs down here in Eastern Loudoun, right now. You know what they’re telling me is happening in the high schools, today? MS-13 is back recruiting in our high schools. Did you see the homicide in Herndon earlier this year? Did you see who was arrested and where he came from? [Editors note: Moises Dominguez of Sterling] …. So now we have a suspect who committed a homicide that happened to be in Herndon, but he’s a Sterling gang banger. When the SROs are seeing the symptoms of it, how it has become a problem in the schools, but is being uniformly ignored by the upper command of the Sheriff’s Office.
Chapman disagrees, saying the agency has been focused on the gang problem and addressing it in part through task force partnerships.
“These relationships helped us achieve probably the largest drug bust in Loudoun’s history – as well as the arrest of a violent gang member charged with murder, both within the last few weeks.”
Chapman believes Noble will bring return of the “good old boys” way of doing things, which for a few people within the Sheriff’s Office, was the inevitable reaction to Chapman’s shake up and modernization.
“If you look at it, it’s ‘east versus west,’ ‘old versus new.’ I think some guys were undermining me from the start.”
But for Noble, the last thing he wants is a return to the old ways.
“What we’re stuck in is the routine of addressing today’s problems today, instead of thinking: What are tomorrow’s problems, and how can we get a step up on them now?”
The Republican nomination will be decided at the May 2 LCRC Convention.