Questionnaire: Chris Harmison, Loudoun County Sheriff

Questionnaire: Chris Harmison, Loudoun County Sheriff

Office sought: Loudoun County Sheriff

Party affiliation: Independent

Pervious office held: N/A

Occupation: Law Enforcement

Current employment: Retired Fairfax County Police

Previous employment: Fairfax County Police Department

Loudoun County Sheriff's Office

Education: Administration of Criminal Justice, Mountain State University, Bs

Community Ties: Dulles Little League

Current endorsements: N/A

1. What is your top public- service accomplishment?

Designing and implementing a community policing program in the most culturally diverse area of Fairfax County. I was then asked to aid in the design and implementation of the program countywide. A key element in the program was in the area was gang intervention. I was named law enforcement officer of the year for the Metropolitan Area by the American Society for Industrial Security in recognition for my efforts in the design and implementation of this program.

2. What are the top five problems facing your constituents and what approaches will you use to solve them?

The top five problems are: Gangs; the dramatic increase in violent crime while violent crime is decreasing elsewhere, traffic; the lack of cost effective service due to top heavy command structure and inadequate use of technology and the Sheriff's unwillingness to work with business, community groups, the faith community and non-profit groups in solving county problems.

I will have a aggressive zero tolerance policy toward gang members and their anti- social behavior this will not only be carried out by the gang unit by every member of the Sheriff's Office. Also, I will work the community to establish gang/youth diversion programs to keep children out of gangs. The other four problems can be solved over time by careful selection of the best law enforcement talent from within the office, use of best management practices developed by law enforcement across the nation, and enlisting the help of community and business groups and government agencies in solving problems.

3. What qualities, qualifications and characteristics will you bring to this office?

I will bring energy, integrity, 22 years of experience with a leading law enforcement agency and very high expectations to an office that is quite simply not half as good as it can be. Most of the issues the Sheriff's Office is now struggling with, such as gangs, drugs and the steady increase in violent crime, first emerged in the urban core of the Metropolitan Area and then radiated towards the outer suburbs. Most of my 24 years in law enforcement were spent dealing with just these issues in the most culturally diverse community in Fairfax County..

4. How will voters best distinguish between you and your opponent(s)?

I am not enchanted with the sound of my own voice. I much prefer to hear what the people of Loudoun County have to say. I have knocked on more doors than all other candidates combined and I have learned much in the process. My staff and I have also invested hundreds of hours in careful research on crime trends in the county to help guide my policy thrusts.

5. Describe the current workforce of the Sheriff's Office. Is it sufficient for fulfilling its public safety responsibilities? If not, what is needed and at what cost?

The current staffing level is sufficient with some adjustments in were the deputies are deployed within the law enforcement operations. However in the area of corrections, court security and civil process more deputies are needed to keep up with the demands placed on these sections. Due to the continuing demands that are placed on the Sheriff's Office due to the growth of gangs and increase in population and traffic we need to ensure that are operational staffing levels are maintained to ensure the utmost safety to the residence of Loudoun County. These levels will need to be increased proportionally to the population and the demands placed on the Sheriff's Office. However by using technology better we can offset some of the personnel required.

6. How difficult is to recruit sheriff deputies? What is the ideal background for such recruits? What steps has the Sheriff's Office taken to expand recruitment efforts? What more can be done?

Loudoun County is currently competitive with neighboring jurisdictions in recruiting law enforcement personnel. We must employ a costly, time-consuming process to ensure that we hire the most qualified personnel.

The ideal background is someone who has life experiences that has been gained through a steady work history with the military or private sector in jobs that require problem-solving skills and interaction with people.

If the Sheriff's Office is to continue to attract quality professional personnel, it must ensure that its pay and benefits package is competitive with the other agencies in our peer group (Northern Virginia). Equally importantly, the Sheriff's Office must create a professional environment for its personnel and show its appreciation for hard work and sacrifice. Since the diversity of the counties population is changing the Sheriff's Office must strive to ensure that are personnel reflect the community in which we serve.

7. Explain the current relationship between the Commonwealth Attorney and the Sheriff's Office. How are the two agencies supposed to interact? In what ways can it be improved?

It appears that the working relationship has become more adversarial and distrusting through the years. Since, as the old adage says, "it takes two tango," both parties must share responsibility for the deterioration of the relationship. The Sheriff and the Commonwealth Attorney both ran together on the same platform eight years ago. The initial crack in the relationship was in 1996 when a prisoner who had been arrested for murder escaped from the jail and it was 36 hours before the Sheriff notified the surrounding community. The Commonwealth Attorney at that time called for a state police investigation of the jail, and the Sheriff objected. There have been continuing allegations by both about cases that were improperly handled.

Since both the Sheriff and the Commonwealth Attorney are part of the criminal justice team that is charged with protecting the citizens of Loudoun County, they must work cooperatively.

As Sheriff, there are two concrete steps I would initially take to improve the relationship with the Commonwealth Attorney. Since the Commonwealth Attorney has two experienced investigators assigned to the office, I would partner one of their investigators with one Sheriff's Office investigator to create a cold case squad to investigate all the open homicide cases. I would also personally meet with the Commonwealth Attorney once a month to ensure that our personnel are interacting properly and to identify incidents before they become problems.

8. Explain the process for identifying suicidal inmates at the county Adult Detention Center. Statistically,, how does Loudoun compare with other county jails?

When a person is brought into the jail, they are asked several questions about their mental health by staff. Also the charges for which the person is brought into the jail with might be an indicator of the possibility of suicide. The person's past history with law enforcement may also hold information about the possibility of suicide.

The key to holding suicide to an absolute minimum is the development and strict implementation of strict procedures. The Loudoun County Sheriff's Office lost its accreditation from the State Corrections Board in 1998 because it failed to adhere to state health and safety standards for inmates.

Consideration should be given to implementing a program similar to one in Arlington County that seeks to divert the seriously mentally ill to the mental health system.

9. What polices and procedures are in place to prevent inappropriate contact between jail staff and inmates? How does such a system break down and what can be done to improve the recruiting or training of department or subcontracted staff in the jail?

First and foremost, there is a written policy governing the conduct of the deputies in that environment. That policy must be strictly enforced so that other members of the staff understand the severity to deviate from it. When deputies are interacting with inmates of the opposite sex, a deputy of the same sex should be present. With proper training, re-training. quality assurance checks and proper leadership, these inappropriate incidents can be reduced or eliminated. There should be no difference in standards for department personnel versus contract personnel when it comes to standards of conduct within our jail.

10. Define community policing and what specific changes in patrol strategies and staffing are required by it?

There are numerous definitions both simple and complex that I have learned as I taught and attended community policing classes across the country. Just as its name implies, the basic definition of community policing is policing driven by community needs.

If true community policing is to be successful within the Sheriffís Office, it must move away from reactive report taking to pro-active problem solving. Law enforcement is commonly referred to as the thin blue line, but it is actually the thin blue thread that is interwoven through the fabric of the community. Initially the current level of staffing can be adjusted to meet the changing operation needs.

11. Describe current crime and drug prevention activities conducted by the Sheriffís Office through its relationship with the public schools. How has it grown or declined?

Currently the Sheriffís Office operates School Resource Deputies in the county high and some middle schools. The D.A.R.E program is currently being taught to children in elementary schools.

Since there has been an increase in gang activity in the county I will look at implementing the Gang Resistance Education And Training program developed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

12. How many active Neighborhood Watch programs are operating? What role should the Sheriffís Office play in expanding Neighborhood Watch- and at what cost?

As part of my implementation of proactive community policing, I would make Neighborhood Watch an integral part of my office. Neighborhood Watch members will work with the deputy assigned to their community to actively solve problems. Effective Neighborhood Watch programs function as the eyes and ears of the Sheriffís Office within their community, which giving us a force multiplier effect.

The cost of the Neighborhood Watch is minimal to Loudoun County since it relies of citizen volunteers to perform most of the tasks. There are grants available to help defer the cost of equipment.

13. How have the new demands of "homeland security" affected the Sheriff's Office? How has the office's priorities changed since 9/11?

It has changed our preparedness level to deal terrorists threats and W.M.D. This has required us to purchase additional equipment so the deputies can safely respond and handle these events. We are now more aware of the high value targets in Loudoun County, so we can better ensure the safety of all citizens. In preparing for these events it has strengthen the way we respond to other natural and man made events.

14. How do you address the perception that the Sheriff's Office is its own fiefdom, rewarding politically astute deputies at the disadvantage of other deputies?

First by making decisions based on professional judgment that puts the operational goals of the Sheriff's Office ahead of personal opinions. Second, by making the Office's operations transparent so that members of the Sheriff's Office and community at large can understand why decisions are made.