Prince William Withholds Names in Search for Police Chief
By URIAH KISER
WOODBRIDGE, Va. — One man’s push for transparency in government has been met with pushback.
Resident blogger Al Alborn asked Prince William County officials to the see the names of county residents who were asked to serve on a special interview panel that will help to decide the next chief of the Prince William County Police Department. The panel comes as Chief Charlie T. Deane retired Sept. 1.
The panel will also include several local government officials who will interview candidates and bring their final decisions to the Prince William County Board of Supervisors — the county’s governing board that is expected to select a new chief early next year.
“I had heard that a panel was formed to select our next Police Chief. Since it isn’t ‘rocket science’ that whomever is on that panel will influence the nature of the decision, I sent a quick email to my supervisor, Marty Nohe, asking who was on it,” Alborn penned in his blog.
That simple request was elevated to a full Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) application that was sent to County Attorney Angela Horan. She wrote back to Alborn and told him, just as county officials told PotomacLocal.com when asked about names of those on the interview panel, that information was off limits.
Alborn posted Horan’s response on his blog and that got the attention of Gainesville District Supervisor Peter Candland who demanded the information be public.
“…it was my understanding that the names of those individuals who were under consideration to serve on this citizens panel would be confidential until the members had agreed to serve and the panel commenced functioning…” Candland stated in a letter to Horan.
The elected leader apparently sent the letter after he read Alborn’s blog post.
The changeover of a new police chief comes as the Department of Homeland Security placed Prince William’s 287(g) program – where inmates at the county’s jail have their immigration status screened by trained sheriff’s deputies – under review.
Residents like Alborn supported Deane who oversaw a department with overall high satisfaction ratings. Deane also protested a 2007 decision that was later overturned to have his officers question anyone suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.
That created friction between Prince William’s At-large Supervisor, Corey Stewart, who said one’s stance on illegal immigration will be a “litmus test” in deciding who the county’s next police chief will be, and blames the president for the putting the 287(g) program at risk.
“It’s obviously important to me that whoever we hire is a strong believer of immigration enforcement. We’ve had problems with illegal immigrants committing crimes in the past, we have a program in place which is now in jeopardy because of the Obama administration, but if we’re able to get that decision overturned by a Romney administration we expect whoever we hire is going to be a proponent of our efforts,” said Stewart.
Stewart was not in favor of releasing the names of anyone on the interview panel keeping with concern aired by county officials that if the names get out, those on the panel, and their decision, may be unduly influenced by friends and neighbors.
The police department
Prince William’s police department is currently headed by Acting Chief Barry Bernard. He’s been with the department since 1976 and served as its assistant chief from 2000 until 2009. The department has 750 sworn and civilian members that make up its ranks.
The county is no longer accepting applications for the chief’s position but has left a job description on its website to serve as a source of information about the job.