manassas journal messenger 02/07/00


Sheriff, police differ on issues





Prince William

The conflict between Prince William’s police department and sheriff’s office

over who should provide traffic and other law enforcement isn’t just about

money or turf, police said.

The real issue is the inefficiency caused when separate agencies strive

to provide the same service, independently.

The long standing feud between the police and sheriff’s office was brought

to light last week when a citizens task force report suggested the role

of the sheriff’s office be clearly spelled out in writing and controlled

through county funding.

Sheriff E. Lee Stoffregen feels the report aims to restrict his responsibilities,

but police argue that a clear distinction between the duties of each agency

is badly needed to settle funding and command conflicts.

“This is about proper management of resources,” said Police

Chief Charlie T. Deane. “It’s not about individuals, it’s about how

we can best provide police resources, and the decision about who is going

to do that was made in 1970.”

When the police department was formed in 1970 the role of the sheriff’s

office, which was previously the primary law enforcement agency, was reduced

to providing courthouse and jail security, transporting prisoners and serving

court papers.

In 1982, the Prince William-Manassas Regional Jail Board assumed control

of the new Adult Detention Center, relieving the sheriff’s office of jail

security duties.

When Stoffregen took office in 1996, he vowed to increase his department’s

role in law enforcement and community service. His staff of 65 deputies

are paid the same as police officers.

“I used to be a sheriff’s deputy and it was embarrassing to be

in a marked car and not be able to do anything when someone went speeding

by at 90 mph,” he said, explaining his strides to get deputies involved

in law enforcement outside the courthouse.

In addition to courthouse duties, deputies now participate in radar

enforcement, drunk driving check points and a middle school mentoring program

that puts a full-time deputy in schools across the county.

But Stoffregen’s efforts have been met with mixed reviews.

The majority opinion of the 12-member task force, appointed by the Board

of County Supervisors to set public safety goals for the county, found the

sheriff’s office is involved in areas outside its responsibility, leading

to a duplication of police services at taxpayers’ expense.

An oft-cited example is the sheriff’s undertaking of traffic enforcement.

Using a state grant from the Department of Motor Vehicles, Stoffregen

bought radar equipment and put deputies on traffic enforcement details in


Stoffregen said citizens and members of the Board of County Supervisors

specifically asked him to help crack down on speeders on busy streets and

he was glad to do so.

“It’s a common sense use of existing resources,” said Stoffregen,

who said traffic enforcement costs county citizens nothing because state

grants pay for all his traffic enforcement equipment.

But police are quick to point out that state grants are partially drawn

from county taxpayer’s money, and traffic enforcement costs much more than

radar equipment.

The cost of training deputies to use radar, paying them for their work

on the street and in court, and the equipment and employees needed to keep

records of tickets are some of the unspoken expenses of the job.

The grant used by the sheriff to meet the costs of traffic enforcement

could have been used by police, who are the designated providers of the

service, police officials said.

For 2001, the DMV gave the sheriff’s office a $20,000 grant for traffic

enforcement programs. The police department was granted $25,000 for its

own use and $30,000 to run a regional Smooth Operator program, which covers

Northern Virginia, Washington D.C. and parts of Maryland.

Stoffregen said his request for grant money had no bearing on the amount

the police department received.

“Just because we got [the grant] doesn’t mean we took it away from

the police’s request,” Stoffregen said. “The police keep saying

all grant money is tax payers money, but if citizens are going to pay those

taxes anyway why shouldn’t they get the benefits by having the money come

back to this region?”

According to the DMV, it’s not uncommon for grants to be awarded to

both a sheriff’s office and police in the same jurisdiction as long as the

grants are for different programs.

“The sheriff and the police department asked for different types

of funding, it wasn’t like they were competing for the same program,”

said Vince Burgess, assistant commissioner for Transportation Safety with

the DMV.

Burgess said he couldn’t comment on whether the police would have received

more funding had the sheriff’s office not applied for grants.

“Regardless of what anybody says, there’s a limited amount of resources

available for any single jurisdiction at any time,” Deane said.

Aside from the money, the danger in allowing two separate agencies to

provide the same services lies in lack of training and communication, police


Because the police department is designed to provide traffic enforcement,

officers are better trained and experienced and are briefed every day on

suspect cars and criminals to be on the look-out for, officials said.

Officers are on the beat 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can make

better use of equipment used by the deputies from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays,

police said.

Duplication also causes confusion in the public, who may not know who

to call to report a problem.

Deane said he appreciates the support of deputies who are out performing

their sheriff’s office duties and happen across a situation where they can

assist, but worries about deputies taking over police services as their

primary duties.

“We have always welcomed the support of sheriff’s deputies in terms

of back-up assistance but it’s a different issue when they decide to duplicate

basic police services,” Deane said.

Stoffregen denies that there is any duplication of services.

“Is it a duplication of services when the state police, park police

or Manassas police write tickets? I think the citizens will say, ‘No, we

want all the help we can get,’ ” Stoffregen said.

As a result of the citizens task force report, the Board of County Supervisors

asked county executives to coordinate meetings with management of the sheriff’s

office and police department to hash out each organization’s role in public


Stoffregen is looking forward to the meeting, which has not been scheduled,

but feels the task force was biased in its recommendations.

The task force was formed last fall and met in 10 sessions to draft

recommendations pertaining to public safety goals. Each supervisor appointed

a task force member from their district and the county provided four members

of its own staff. Although one sheriff’s employee and one police employee

were appointed to the force, several members happened to be affiliated with

police departments in some way, putting the sheriff’s office at a disadvantage,

Stoffregen said.

“I am disappointed the sheriff found it necessary to attack the

integrity of the panel members,” Deane said. “These were citizens

who made recommendations on a wide variety of issues.”

Bill Hunt, a member of the task force who spent 10 years with the sheriff’s

office and 25 years with the police department before retiring, said all

members reviewed the goals from a citizen’s viewpoint.

Hunt was one of six members who made up the majority opinion. Four members

dissented, one abstained from voting and one was absent.

“Law enforcement is the police department’s responsibility, and

the sheriff should only assist when asked,” Hunt said.

Law enforcement outside of the sheriff’s responsibilities is “not

an efficient use of his people – they should be doing their job. If there’s

such a need for these resources, the police should go to the board and ask

for additional officers,” Hunt said.

Judy Burke, an employee of the sheriff’s office and a dissenting member

of the task force, disagreed.

“We acknowledge the police are the primary law enforcement agency.

We’re not trying to outdo them or make them look bad, we’re just trying

to compliment the service they’re providing because we can,” she said.

Deane and Stoffregen both said that they are optimistic that when they

meet they can gain a better understanding of each other’s positions.



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