From the time Sheriff Steve Simpson announced he would run for re-election in December 2006, he firmly stood his ground on Immigrant Enforcement Training (ICE) for his deputies. While the sheriff viewed the federal program as a positive one, he did not think it was a good fit for Loudoun County.
Primarily, Simpson said that he felt that the training would be a needless overlap of enforcement duties, as the Sheriff’s Office has a good working relationship with ICE and works with two ICE agents on a daily basis, he said. The agreement would also require Simpson to use Loudoun County jail space to house convicted criminal illegal immigrants as they await deportation, further stretching the resources of his department, he said.
"Currently, [ICE agents] pick them up within 24 to 48 hours," Simpson said. "We can accomplish all of the same things without having to house them in our jail."
Simpson pointed out approximately 130 criminals from Loudoun County are already housed in other jurisdictions right now because there is not enough room in the county jail.
On several occasions the Board of Supervisors requested Simpson further explore ICE training for his deputies and he did.
Before the Tuesday, May 1 Board of Supervisors meetings Simpson received a phone call from ICE officials stating they would remove any federal inmates from the county jail after 72 hours, and pay overtime to deputies who transport the inmates to other jails, if ICE officials cannot do it themselves.
"If I can get in on my terms, I think it would be a great program," Simpson said, "but I want to see it in writing before we put the press release out."
At a debate sponsored by the Patrick Henry College Republicans in Purcellville Monday night, Greg Ahlemann, who is also seeking the Republican nomination for sheriff, questioned Simpson’s change of heart.
"I question the sheriff’s sincerity. This has become a political issue," Ahlemann said. "He seems to have flip-flopped here."
"There’s fine print that goes along with everything," Simpson said. "The talks have been going on. This didn’t just happen overnight."
WITH THE TOSS of a coin, Ahlemann kicked off the debate with first-hand accounts of the streets of Sterling Park. The former deputy sheriff patrolled the neighborhood's streets at night in the late 1990s. He said gangs were around back then, but Simpson did not admit to the problem until 2001.
"We’re about six years too late," Ahlemann said.
Since day one of his campaign, Ahlemann said he has been in favor of the ICE training program because of, what he said, he saw while on night patrol in eastern Loudoun, including graffiti, public urination and overcrowded houses.
Simpson pointed out that the crime rate in Sterling Park has actually gone down over the past two years. Loudoun County is growing, Simpson said, and so is its immigrant population. Simpson pointed out that only one in 20 gang members is an illegal immigrant.
"[House Bill] 287 (g) is not a cure all. It’s another tool," Simpson said. "You can’t run through Sterling Park saying 287 (g) is going to cure all their problems. I think it’s deceiving."
Ahlemann said he feels bad for the people who live in Sterling Park because of the recent gang activity in the area.
"I don’t need to convince the residents of Sterling Park that their neighborhoods are less safe. They’re afraid to leave their homes, people urinating on their front lawn," Ahlemann said. "The administration is out of touch as far as being in touch with what’s going on on the street."
The sheriff said he meets with deputies on a monthly basis to talk about their concerns. "The disconnect you speak of, I don’t believe it’s there," Simpson said.
One thing Simpson and Ahlemann agreed on was their opinion of Democratic candidate Mike George’s stance on House Bill 287 (g).
"Although I do support working with ICE, I believe we only need one deputy assigned full time. I believe that the immigration problem is a federal problem and cannot be solved by a local agency," George said on his Web site. "I do not believe in profiling or directed patrols against any specific ethnic group. I want to target criminals who commit crimes within Loudoun County and if they are undocumented aliens, use ICE as a tool to remove them from our neighborhoods."
Ahlemann said George’s stance on the issue was "just for show."
"If you’re going to do it, you need to do it right," Simpson said.
DURING CLOSING arguments, Simpson highlighted the 20 years he has been a part of the Sheriff’s Office. Simpson challenged his audience to look at the county’s history and to talk to the Sheriff’s Office deputies on the street about the quality of law enforcement in Loudoun.
"I feel I’ve been very effective in my 20 years with the Sheriff’s Office, 12 years as sheriff," Simpson said. "We’ve gained ground, built up a reputation. It takes a long time to gain a reputation like ours."
As far as experience, Ahlemann said his 10 years on the streets of Loudoun County provides him a perspective the sheriff does not have.
Ahlemann said his goal, if elected, is to restore the Sheriff’s Office deputies' integrity and trust in the administration.
"We’re still policing the same way we did 20, 30 years ago. We respond and we clean up the mess," Ahlemann said. "I hope to bring a vision of the future."