Isle of Wight police department mentioned

Published 10:35 am Wednesday, March 14, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The question of creating a countywide police force has been raised just months before a special election for a new Isle of Wight County Sheriff. 

Smithfield Town Council member Milton Cook brought up the issue at a recent intergovernmental meeting with the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors. 

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“I have always found an elected official to be in charge of crime control a problem,” said Cook, adding that population growth — particularly in the northern area of the county — was another reason. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Cook later pointed out in an email that he was not referring to any particular person or administration, but rather the concept. 

“I have the same feeling about areas where judges are elected,” he said, adding that his comments also have nothing to do with the upcoming sheriff’s election.

Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice said creating a countywide force could be a way to save money. 

Recently, Sheriff Mark Marshall decided to retire and vacate his term two years early. His chief deputy, James Clarke, was recently sworn in as interim sheriff, as dictated by the Code of Virginia. Clarke has announced he will seek the office, as has fellow deputy, Lt. James Pope. 

The special election for sheriff could have been held along with the annual general election, but the Board of Supervisors opted to hold the election quickly, and asked the Circuit Court to set it for July 24, despite a possible price tag of $20,000 and low voter turnout. 

The towns of Smithfield and Windsor both operate their own police departments. 

Sheriff and police chief

This is not the first time that the idea of a countywide police force has been raised in Isle of Wight, but it has not yet progressed beyond the talking phase.

To create a police force would require approval through a voter referendum, according to John Jones, executive director for the Virginia Sheriffs’ Association. 

Basically, in the case of two agencies, the police department would handle law enforcement, while the sheriff’s office would work the courts and civil process.

Jones said there are nine counties out of the 95 in Virginia that operate both a police department and a sheriff’s office. Most of those were established before the referendum requirement kicked in, Jones said. 

York and Hanover counties tried to establish separate agencies, but voters defeated those efforts, said Jones.

Jones said the counties that tried and failed to create the two departments cited three reasons why it wasn’t the best option — the selection of the top law enforcement executive being taken out of the hands of the residents and given to the county administrator and board of supervisors; the cost to create two departments; and that there is no difference in the training between sheriff’s deputies and police officers. 

On the other hand, a county police department allows a locality to separate law enforcement from court security and process functions, as well as take the politics out of policing, according to Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and Foundation Inc.

“We usually see counties consider the creation of a police department as their population grows and becomes more diverse,” said Schrad.   

Since a sheriff is a constitutional officer, the state compensation board funds a portion of the agency, based upon a formula of one deputy per 1,500 in population. 

In Isle of Wight County, the Board of Supervisors provides a supplement to the Sheriff’s Office budget, but efforts to obtain that amount were not successful by press time. 

For fiscal 2018, the Sheriff’s Office budget was $4.8 million with 49 full-time sworn officers. 

The Smithfield Police Department had a proposed budget of $2.5 million for fiscal 2017 and currently has 19 officers, including the chief of police, listed on its website. The department is authorized to hire up to 21 officers, said Chief Alonzo Howell. 

The town of Windsor also has its own police department, with a budget of $545,859 for fiscal 2018 and six officers, including the chief of police. 

Cook said in an email that Smithfield’s police force has a long history and he’s not sure the town would be ready to give that up. 

Windsor’s police force is newer, having been established in 2001.


Prince George County has long operated a separate police department and sheriff’s office. 

Prince George is similar in population size to Isle of Wight, with 37,845 individuals, according to the U.S. Census. 

While the sheriff remains an elected office, the county administrator typically recommends a police chief to the Board of Supervisors that reviews the applicant before an offer is made, said Prince George County Administrator Percy Ashcraft. 

Ashcraft said the county police chief is treated the same as any other departmental head. 

The town of Smithfield uses the same process to hire its police chief. 

Prince George spent $570,426 on its sheriff’s office for fiscal 2018, with another $545,739 provided by the state for a total budget of $1.1 million.

The county also budgeted $5.3 million for its police department for that fiscal year, according to Prince George Finance Director Betsy Drewry. 

In addition to law enforcement, the police department also oversees animal control and the emergency operations center, which have separate budgets, Drewry said. 

Ashcraft said that the sheriff and police chief get along well and do not create territorial disputes that could make operating two departments difficult. 

Ashcraft said the chief and sheriff know their roles and do not duplicate services. 

The other eight counties with separate police departments are Chesterfield, Henrico, James City County, Arlington, Fairfax, Prince William, Albemarle and Roanoke. 

The populations of those counties range from 74,404 in James City County to 1.1 million in Fairfax County, according to the U.S. Census. 


The concept of a countywide police force raised questions for those now serving in law enforcement.

Isle of Wight County interim Sheriff James Clarke, who is also running for Marshall’s remaining term, was concerned with potential added costs in terms of buildings and personnel. 

Clarke didn’t know why the question has come up now and doesn’t believe the current structures — a Sheriff’s Office plus two town police departments — are broken and need to be fixed. 

Clarke does acknowledge that Isle of Wight is growing and plans to ask the Board of Supervisors for more funding for deputies to keep up with crime and traffic in the northern end of the county. 

The Board of Supervisors approved funding a few years ago for additional deputies in Carrollton, but Clarke said the rapid growth is raising the necessity for more. 

Lt. James Pope, who is with the Sheriff’s Office and is also running to fill Marshall’s unexpired term, was also concerned that a countywide police force, coupled with the Sheriff’s Office, would be expensive. 

The county would still need a Sheriff’s Office to run the courts and civil process, he said, adding that currently, deputies assigned to the courts can also be used on patrol, if necessary.

Pope also questioned how the system would work with three municipalities. 

Howell did not know how the Smithfield Police Department would be impacted and thinks the current arrangement is effective. 

Howell wondered if there was a need for a countywide police department at this time. 

Windsor Police Chief Rodney “Dan” Riddle did not respond to a request for comment.  {/mprestriction}