It might not be the job that gets the most attention on a ballot, but local elected sheriffs can wield a significant amount of power in Virginia. Their decisions affect how law enforcement agencies run over their four-year terms, and unlike police chiefs, they usually operate with limited oversight.
The responsibilities of the job vary significantly across the state, and the Virginia Sheriff’s Association says their duties “aren’t spelled out in any one document.” Many of Virginia’s sheriffs are responsible for running locally-operated jails in their jurisdiction, which means they can decide if the jails will be used as ICE detainment centers.
Like many “down-ballot” local positions, sheriff elections often get very little coverage. Many incumbent sheriffs run unopposed and frequently the candidate with most name recognition is the one who gets elected. Adding to the confusion is the fact that Virginia is one of the only states where cities, not just large counties, have their own designated sheriff.
To help you navigate the election this year, The Dogwood has compiled a list of some sheriff races races to watch and what sets the candidates apart from one other.
Democrat Josh King is running against Prince William Sheriff Glendell Hill, the Republican incumbent who has served for almost sixteen years. King is the first Democratic candidate to run for sheriff in Prince William County in over 15 years.
King said if elected he will end the county’s participation with ICE’s controversial “287(g) program,” which grants officers the right to work alongside ICE officers and perform certain immigration law functions.
There is a third candidate in the sheriff’s race, Rhonda Dickson, who is running as an independent. Dickson, an Air Force veteran, served for over a decade in law enforcement in Prince William County. Dickson writes that she is running as an independent because she is a “firm believer that the Office of the Sheriff should be above partisan politics.” If Dickson wins she would be the first woman to be elected sheriff in Prince William county.
Democrat Justin Hannah is running against incumbent Michael Chapman, a Republican, who is seeking a third term in the position. If elected, Hannah would be the County’s first black sheriff.
Hannah has vowed to push for stricter enforcement of gun laws and said he would advocate for more effective gun safety measures.
Chapman has faced criticism from Hannah and others for his “ethically questionable” decision to accept campaign contributions from the health care provider for a jail that he runs. In 2016, Chapman also appeared with other sheriffs in a video produced by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an anti-immigration organization, in which he urged the president and Congress to close sanctuary cities.
Incumbent Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid, a Democrat, is being challenged for her seat by independent candidate Christopher DeCarlo. Since taking office in 2013, Kinkaid has launched several unique programs, including a diversion program that has kept more than 1,500 people from being arrested.
DeCarlo, in contrast, wrote letter appealing for votes where he criticized a leading candidate for the Commonwealth’s Attorney for not prosecuting people for “small amounts of dope.” He also linked to a video he made promising to arrest elected officials who took campaign contributions, which he views as unconstitutional, and said he is running in part to “initiate an investigation into a possible local Fairfax mafia.”
Williamsburg/James City County
Williamsburg/James City County merged their sheriff’s offices in the late 1990s. Bob Deeds, the current sheriff and a Republican, is set to retire after serving in the position since 2000. There are three candidates are vying to replace him: Republican David J. Hardin, independent Sean Gormus and Democrat G.L. Mitchell. Of the three candidates, Mitchell most emphasizes the need for community outreach and improving the relationship between the general public and the police force.
CORRECTION: This story was updated on Oct. 31, 2019, to include an independent candidate in Prince William County.