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Questionnaire: Steve Simpson, Loudoun County Sheriff (Incumbent)

Office sought: Sheriff

Party Affiliation: Republican

INCUMBENTS: WHEN ELECTED: Sheriff of Loudoun County since 1996

Education: Annandale Campus of the Northern Virginia Community College- Police Science.

Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Academy, completing numerous Management and other specialized courses.

Law Enforcement Executive Development Program at the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA. Virginia Sheriff's Institute Chief Executive Training.

COMMUNITY TIES:

Chairman of the Council of Governments Corrections Chiefs Committee

Virginia Sheriff's Association's Executive Committee

Executive Committee of the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Academy

National Sheriff's Association's Highway Safety Committee.

Awards: Bronze Medal of Valor from the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Deputy of the Year by the Knights of Columbus

ENDORSEMENTS: Governor Jim Gilmore, Congressman Frank Wolf, Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, Senator Bill Mims, Senator Russ Potts, Delegate Joe May, Delegate Gary Reese, Delegate Tom Rust, Delegate Bob Marshall.

1. What is your top public-service accomplishment?

Incumbents: Describe the top accomplishment of your last term. Why shouldn’t voters blame you for current problems?

My top public service accomplishment is the substantial increase in community partnership and involvement with the Sheriff's Office. The initiation of community policing efforts, both in selected neighborhoods and as a department-wide strategic shift from traditional policing methods, has significantly improved our relationship with our citizenry. Expansion of the School Resource Officer program and continuing efforts through the DARE program also serve to create strong relationships with Loudoun's youth and support our efforts to create community partnerships.

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

The top five problems facing Loudoun County are:

Gang activity

Escalating gang activity in the region has been well documented. I have taken proactive steps to address the issue through the creation of a Gang Intelligence Unit, participation in the regional Gang Task Force, and through my participation on Virginia Attorney General Kilgore's Gang Task Force.

Traffic

Several years ago, I created a Traffic Unit to begin addressing these problems. The unit now requires expansion because of the growth that is occurring. More motorcycle deputies will allow maneuvering around traffic to reach accidents and disabled vehicles and remove them quicker to restore traffic flow. Development also results in more truck traffic, and additional truck safety inspectors are required to monitor compliance with regulations and remove unsafe trucks from service.

Homeland security issues

The threats posed by the current world climate have created additional workload for all public safety entities. Training and equipment for first responders to ensure they are equipped to help others is imperative. Communication with the citizenry is critical, and a Reverse 911 system is currently being developed for this purpose.

Increasing demand for law enforcement services with budgetary constraints

The County's efforts to reduce the tax rate are commendable, however, the number of calls for police services and the number of inmates housed in the jail continue to rise. Staffing levels for the Sheriff's Office continue to be critically low and response time to emergency calls continues to get longer. I will continue my efforts to add deputies to reach the accepted ratio of 1 deputy per each 1000 population and will also look at alternatives to police response for certain situations.

Potential crime increase due to growth

More people generally correlate to increased numbers of crimes, and the growth that we are experiencing will likely follow this trend. Additional staff will be needed for this likely increase. With the growth, however, comes opportunity for additional Neighborhood Watch programs and other partnerships that can be fostered to keep this problem to a minimum.

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

As Sheriff, I bring leadership, integrity, and vision to the office. This has been illustrated by my actions and initiatives over the past eight years. I have restructured the department to more efficiently and effectively respond to community needs, eliminated the "good old boy" system and replaced it with fair and equitable treatment of employees and implemented an internal affairs function that cooperates closely with the Commonwealth Attorney's office to ensure department integrity is maintained.

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

My experience and record clearly distinguish me from other candidates. I have an excellent relationship with all regional law enforcement agencies that have been established over time, and that have proved most beneficial during situations such as 9-11 and the sniper shootings. I have been a leader in the fight against gang activity and have been named to the State Gang Task Force by Attorney General Kilgore. I have taken steps to address traffic issues through the creation of the Traffic Division, which targets unsafe driving practices, DUI, and dangerous trucks.

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

The current Sheriff's Office staffing level is insufficient to meet the demand for services. The office is mandated with operating the jail, security of the courts as well as serving all orders of the court, patrolling the roads and conducting investigations. Less visible, but also critical and required, are support functions such as the maintenance of criminal and accident records, hiring and training, payroll and other administrative support. Based on generally accepted ratios, the office is short nearly 50 deputies, not including support personnel. I am currently revising my four-year plan and working with the County Administrator to identify methods to increase staff without undue impact on taxpayers.

6. How difficult is it 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?

Recruitment of deputies is becoming increasingly difficult because of competition from the federal law enforcement agencies and other local law enforcement entities. Of the applicants screened, many are found to be unsuitable because of issues discovered in background investigations. As a result, it is not unusual to review 25 applicants to hire one deputy. In terms of ideal candidates, the attributes are clean background and a strong desire to serve their community; bi-lingual speaking skills are also desirable. The Sheriff's Office has made efforts to recruit applicants from the various minority communities, the military and from smaller departments where people are looking to move up to a larger and more diverse agency. Additional efforts in these areas, increased pay and benefits, and more opportunities for advancement or special assignment would significantly assist recruitment efforts.

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

The relationship between the Sheriff's Office and the Office of the Commonwealth's Attorney is not as contentious as it has been portrayed. Although there are personal and political issues between Mr. Anderson and me, a professional relationship exists to ensure that justice is served. Disagreement on the direction of an investigation and prosecution is normal and healthy in most cases; the ability to come to compromise and agree, and ultimately convict the guilty, comes from this process. To improve, I would like to see joint initiatives, such as targeted enforcement and prosecution efforts and combined legislative proposals, to better address new problems facing the community.

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

Deputies who receive specialized training in the identification of potential suicidal behavior initially screen all inmates. Deputies also are trained in what signs to look for during routine cellblock checks. To back up this assessment, medical personnel also screen incoming inmates. Should there be any indication of suicidal tendencies, mental health professionals are called in for in-depth assessments.

I am unaware of a study that provides a statistical analysis of Loudoun County's experience in comparison to other facilities. Although even one instance is too many, my staff has done an exceptional job even though the existing facility is outdated and difficult to manage. A new facility is planned for construction in the near future that will be properly constructed and equipped to further reduce the opportunity for an inmate to be unobserved.

9. What policies 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?

Jail procedures are governed by the Department of Corrections as well as department General Orders and procedures. Criminal statutes also prohibit this type of conduct. Strict enforcement through both criminal and administrative avenues acts as an important deterrent. The current facility, because of its age, was not designed with this type of situation in mind. The new facility was designed to maximize oversight of both inmates and employees through the elimination of secluded areas and other blind spots as well as utilization of an extensive video network.

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

Community policing is a philosophy of policing that differs from the traditional strategy of simply patrolling, responding to calls for service, and conducting investigations after a crime has occurred. Using the community policing strategy, deputies develop strong relationships with the community to prevent and reduce crime. By creating these partnerships, community participation is generated that reduces the fear of victimization. Additionally, it has been recognized that a small number of areas and individuals are responsible for a large percentage of problems. By working with the community, these problem areas can be targeted through innovative intervention methods. Substantial time is expended in initial implementation to obtain community support and involvement, so additional staffing is necessary. When this philosophy is fully integrated, additional staffing should not be required and possibly reduced. In regard to deployment, it is important to assign the same deputies to the same areas all the time to develop and maintain a close community partnership.

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

The Sheriff's Office works closely with the schools through the DARE, School Resource Officer, crime prevention and McGruff camp programs to present drug and crime awareness programs. Unfortunately, the budget has not allowed expansion of these programs over the past few years, and there was a reduction as a result of budget cuts last year. In my four-year plan, school programs are targeted for expansion, and it is my objective to staff each middle and high school with a School Resource Officer.

12. How many active Neighborhood Watch programs are operating? What role should the Sheriff's Office play in expanding Neighborhood Watch — and at what cost?

Expansion of the Neighborhood Watch program was one of my priorities and received the attention of U.S. Attorney John Ashcroft last year. As a result of our efforts, the number of Neighborhood Watches has jumped from less than ten to nearly 60. This is a program coordinated by the crime prevention deputies as part of their duties and has little associated costs but provides substantial benefits, especially in providing the department with hundreds of eyes and ears that are in our communities all the time.

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

Homeland Security has had a dramatic impact on the Sheriff's Office in many different areas. Identifying and securing critical infrastructure, such as water and power, has taxed our resources and drawn them away from other duties. Acquisition of special equipment to deal with potential threats has diverted budgeted funds from other needs and created training issues that also take deputies away from normal duties. Since 9/11, our focus has had to be on preventing and responding to the terrorism threat and on new ways to communicate and inform our citizens, which has led to the Citizen Alert System and the development of Reverse 911.

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?

One of my first priorities when elected Sheriff eight years ago was to eliminate the "good old boy" system. To accomplish this, I reduced the size of the top-heavy administration and implemented a grievance process for all deputies. Additionally, competitive promotional exams are now conducted to ensure all deputies have an equal opportunity for advancement. I also created an Internal Affairs Office to investigate complaints of impropriety that works closely with the Commonwealth's Attorney to ensure fair and equitable treatment of any issues that may arise.