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The Officer

Bill Cleveland wants to help fight gangs.

For Bill Cleveland, the campaign to become Alexandria's next sheriff is the zenith of a long career in public safety. Since losing his 2003 campaign for mayor, Cleveland has been working toward that goal, and he says that the office has a great amount of untapped potential. He would like to extend the sheriff's duties into fighting gang crime, reducing traffic gridlock and helping people with Alzheimer's disease.

"This is the culmination of everything I've ever done," Cleveland said. "I love serving the people of Alexandria, and I'd like to serve them in this capacity."

Cleveland served 30 years of the United States Capitol Police and 15 years on the Alexandria City Council. On two occasions, he received the most votes of any council candidate — earning the position of vice mayor. He says that his main goal for the sheriff's office would be to maintain the department's accreditation.

"The Alexandria jail is one of the few jails in the nation that is a Triple Crown winner," Cleveland said, adding that the prison was accredited in law enforcement, health care and corrections. "I want to make sure we keep it that way."

A NATIVE OF PITTSBURGH, Cleveland graduated from Schenley High School in 1968. Soon after, he was drafted into the Army and deployed to Vietnam to fight in the war. From December 1968 to December 1969, Cleveland was stationed near the Mekong Delta.

"Everyday was like the Fourth of July," Cleveland said. "Bombs were going off all the time."

When he returned to the United States, the steel mills in Pittsburgh had closed. So he came to Alexandria to live with relatives. He worked at Drug Fair for a few months in 1971 before taking a job with the campus police at George Washington University. In 1972, he took a job with the campus police at the Northern Virginia Community College.

"I was the first African-American police officer at Northern Virginia Community College," Cleveland said. "I thought I would stay there, but in 1974 a better opportunity opened up with the Capitol Police."

In the late 1970s, Cleveland worked with neighbors and police officers to create a neighborhood watch program for Warwick Village. He says that this was a transforming experience in his life, working to create a safer neighborhood in Del Ray.

"We cut crime 98.8 percent in one year," he said. "It was a concept, and we worked to make it happen."

In 1988, he was elected to the Alexandria City Council. In 1991 and 2000, Cleveland received more votes than any other council candidate. As a result, he served two terms as vice mayor, often presiding over meetings when the mayor was not available. One of his most valued accomplishments from that time was his role in the creation of Alexandria's Enterprise Zone, which he credits for sparking the revitalization of Mount Vernon Avenue.

"When George Allen was governor, he appointed me to the state board of corrections," Cleveland said. "So I helped to build prisons in the commonwealth of Virginia."

CLEVELAND WANTS to expand the duties of the sheriff, working with gang members and Alzheimer's patients. He says that the fight against gangs has suffered from a lack of imagination, and the sheriff's office can step in to pick up the slack.

"Everyone talks about gang intervention, but there are very few programs out there," Cleveland said. "We put a lot of money into suppression and prevention of gangs, but not a lot of money into intervention."

Cleveland wants to work with the court system to intervene in the lives of gang members to work toward change. And he says that it's important not to give up.

"I've worked with youth before, and I've lost them before," Cleveland said, adding that prison is the perfect place to do gang intervention. "I want to go back and get the ones that are lost."

Another goal that Cleveland has for the sheriff's office involves using the resources of the department to help police locate lost residents. He wants the city to participate in Project Lifesaver, which distributes identification bracelets that use a national electronic tracking system to assist in locating people with Alzheimer's disease who wander from home and become lost. The identification bracelets can also be used for children with Down syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorder.

"It takes a tremendous amount of time to find people who are lost," Cleveland said. "But it's easy if they have an ID bracelet."

Cleveland says that Project Lifesaver, while not within the traditional scope of the Alexandria Sheriff's Office, is the kind of area where the duties of the position could grow.

"The city of Alexandria is the most densely populated city in Virginia, so I think it would be very good for the city of Alexandria to pick up the program," Cleveland said. "This program promotes public safety, which is one of the elements of the sheriff's job."

Another area where Cleveland believes that the sheriff's office could expand its duties is in the area of traffic control. He says that sheriffs' deputies could be stationed at busy intersections during rush hours.

"That way, the Police Department could go and do other duties," he said.

REHABILITATING CRIMINALS is a tough job, but Cleveland says that the sheriff has got to pick his battles wisely. He wants to expand vocational education, giving prisoners training to be plumbers, electricians and mechanics.

"The average plumber makes a good paycheck," he said. "That would enhance the economy and help them out."

But, Cleveland says, all criminals can be rehabilitated.

"Believe it or not, there are some people who don't want to be rehabilitated," Cleveland said. "These are the types of people I am not going to waste taxpayers' dollars on."