To be or not to be accredited

As was the case in the last election four years ago, the fact the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office is not accredited has become an issue in the current campaign.

Troy Painting, who is running against Donald Lowe for the sheriff’s job, says his first priority if he wins the race will be to seek accreditation. 

“It’s no different than if you were trying to attend an accredited school, so you know you are protected,” Painting said. “It means you’ve met the highest standard of training.”  

The problem is most acute in terms of how people are hired or promoted to work in the sheriff’s office, he said. Without accreditation, he claimed, the department does not have a process to address these personnel matters.

Lowe, who has been Sheriff Ashland Fortune’s chief deputy since 2000, said the agency’s lack of accreditation does not mean he and his staff don’t have internal policies in place.

“We have to review every policy annually to see if standards have changed or not,” Lowe said. “I think all police departments do that.”

He said deputies are hired, promoted and paid based on their education and experience. The starting salary is currently $40,000 “if you’re totally green,” but can be higher if a deputy has graduated from the police academy or has a bachelor’s degree. 

One of the biggest reasons the sheriff’s office hasn’t been accredited is its lack of space, Lowe said. The department has asked the Louisa County Board of Supervisors in the past to help resolve the problem. In 2017, the county briefly floated the idea of a new building behind the county offices on Woolfolk Avenue to address the space issue, but no action was taken.

The sheriff’s office has minimal space to store evidence and does not have adequate meeting space for deputies to meet with people involved in criminal cases, Lowe said. 

Painting said space should not be a limiting factor in being accredited.

“There are agencies much smaller than Louisa’s that have achieved it,” he said. 

The Town of Louisa police department is looking at whether it should obtain accredited status, according to Tom Leary, interim police chief. 

Erik Smith, an accreditation manager for the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, said there is no specific standard that governs how much building space a law enforcement agency needs. Many Virginia sheriff’s offices are accredited through the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission.

“They look at whether you’re adequately doing your job, whether you’ve got a proper evidence room, for example,” Smith said.  

Leary is a team leader for the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), an organization that accredits police departments nationally. It’s considered the gold standard in accreditation and completing the process can cost upward of $10,000. 

Given the cost, many sheriff’s offices and town police departments seek accreditation through the state commission instead. The commission requires a police department to pay for room and board for a team of professionals during the accreditation assessment, which can last several days.

Of Louisa County’s immediate neighbors, Albemarle, Goochland, Hanover and Spotsylvania counties are accredited through DCJS, and Fluvanna has begun the process. Hanover is also accredited through CALEA. Painting said he would choose the latter.

Besides space, Lowe said he also needs to pay someone to serve as a full-time accreditation manager before the department can apply to start the process. 

Although Painting has not worked professionally in law enforcement, he said that while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps he trained with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration at Quantico in Northern Virginia.

He used that to refute Lowe’s statement that he is the best candidate because of his experience. Lowe has 33 years in law enforcement and has managed day-to-day operations in the sheriff’s office for about 20 years. Painting operates Cooper Contracting Inc., a construction business, and is Louisa Little League president.

“Experience does not equal success or failure,” Painting said. “I have a lot of experiences. You could have the experience of doing the same thing over and over again, without improvement.”

More detailed comments by Painting and Lowe about their campaigns can be found in the special election section included in this week’s paper.