Carol and Bart Rop are Vietnam War veterans. They served their country and now, they’re serving their community.
The Rops moved to Sterling Park 27 years ago. Over the years, their neighborhood has changed. The crime rate has gone up, they said, and they lock their doors at night. After the series of drive-by shootings, when two Park View High School students shot at five homes, seriously injuring one man, the Rops took matters into their own hands. They joined their neighborhood watch program.
Every night, the husband and wife get in their car and patrol the streets along Sterling Boulevard. When they see something suspicious, they call the Sheriff’s Office.
"Sometimes it takes [the Sheriff’s Office] awhile to get down here because they’re all the way in Leesburg," Bart Rop said. "It takes time getting down Route 7."
When the Sheriff’s Office, in conjunction with the Board of Supervisors and School Board, announced the idea of a substation located next door to Rolling Ridge Elementary School in Sterling last month, the Rops were anxious to show their support.
They and approximately 50 other Sterling Park residents filed into Rolling Ridge Elementary School’s auditorium to participate in a community input meeting on the proposed substation, Wednesday, Nov. 1.
The school system owns the property and must vote to give it to the Sheriff’s Office free of charge.
If the School Board approves the land transfer, the Board of Supervisors has to approve funding the substation in next year’s county budget. If both boards approve the substation, it could open in fall 2009, said Paul Brown, the county administrator’s assistant.
Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson said he wanted the community to take part in the process. The Sheriff’s Office and county government officials were on hand to answer questions and address concerns.
MAJ. BOB BUCKMAN explained a day in the life of a Sheriff’s Office deputy who works in Sterling.
As of now, Sterling deputies spend most of their time on roads between Leesburg and Sterling Park, going to role call and booking arrestees.
"This is a high-density area, diverse in culture," he said. "We want to be east of Route 28. That’s where we have the highest volume of calls."
The substation would allow deputies to stay in their patrol area, rather than traveling back and forth Route 7 between Leesburg and Sterling.
The 18,000-square-foot building would include administrative offices, deputy workrooms and several temporary holding cells, where individuals can only be detained for a few hours.
"This wasn’t the result of recent crime or the shootings. This has been planned for years," Buckman said.
SIMPSON, a father of four children, assured parents their children would be safe next door to the proposed Sheriff’s Office substation.
"It’s not meant to be a jail," he said.
He said once criminals are detained they would be taken to Leesburg. Criminals would be transported from the building to a car through a sally port, a secure garage facility connected to the substation, so they’ll have no contact with the outside or the public.
School Board member and Sterling Park resident J. Warren Geurin (Sterling) said the school system would not give the Sheriff’s Office the land if it thought children’s lives were in danger.
"The School Board owns that land. We haven’t given it to anybody yet," Geurin said.
Ethan Stein is a Rolling Ridge Elementary School parent. The father of two said he is in favor of a Sheriff’s Office substation in Sterling Park. He just doesn’t want it next door to his children’s school.
Stein’s biggest concerns were fast-paced patrol cars and criminals coming in and out of the facility.
If anything, Buckman said, there will be a stronger Sheriff’s Office presence in the area.
ROLLING RIDGE ELEMENTARY School Principal Melinda Carper sat in the front row at the meeting. She said her students do not use the field for physical education or recess. The school doesn’t use the land, period.
But the community does.
The proposed site serves as a grassy field, where children play soccer and tag before and after school. In addition to safety concerns, Stein said he will miss playing with his children in that area on the weekends.
"There’s lots of commercial property that I wouldn’t miss," Stein said. "We can’t buy another field."
The Sheriff’s Office and county administration continue to look for other options, but there’s not a lot of available space for a substation, at a reasonable cost.
"We can’t compete with the private sector with your tax dollars," Brown said.
PHYLLIS RANDALL is a Lansdowne resident and mother of two adolescent boys. She supports the substation next door to Rolling Ridge Elementary School because it keeps deputies in Sterling Park, a place that needs some policing.
Even though she doesn’t live in the neighborhood she is concerned for the safety of her two children, students at Broad Run High School and Seldens Landing Elementary School in Ashburn.
"Sterling Park has become a firewall," Randall said. "Stop it now. What you do in Sterling will help save Ashburn. What you do in Sterling will help save Broadlands. What you do in Sterling will help save Loudoun County."
She said Loudoun County residents need to think about the big picture. One community’s decision could affect the county, she said.
SHERIFF’S OFFICE Deputy Kevin Fry works closely with Sterling residents.
"He’s a tough cop, no nonsense," Carolyn Rop said. "He is a wonderful community resource."
Fry said a Sheriff’s Office substation in Sterling Park would allow him to remain in the community he patrols, rather than driving back and forth between Leesburg and Sterling. The increased presence would allow deputies to develop better relationships with community members.
"We become tuned in to the pulse of the community," he said. "We can’t do this alone."