Changes ahead for area police

Woodstock Police Department partrolman Matt Rhodes uses a bar code scanner to label a package containing evidence inside the police department's property room. The department recently purchased an evidence management software system that labels and tracks each piece of evidence. Rich Cooley/Daily

Leadership turnover at several police agencies is making 2015 a year of transition in area law enforcement.

Change will be conspicuous in Frederick County, where a new sheriff will be in town come November. Incumbent Robert Williamson announced his retirement plans Feb. 13 after 24 years in office.

Now the race is on to choose Williamson’s successor in the November election.

Terry Bohan, a retired supervisor with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, is the sole Republican candidate to announce his candidacy so far. Deputy Scott Madigan is running as an independent.

Most of the impending leadership changes are concentrated in the towns along Old Valley Pike in southern Shenandoah County where three police chiefs – Charles Peery of New Market, Mike Clem of Edinburg and J.D. Fadley of Mount Jackson – are about to depart or have already done so.

Clem and Peery are retiring later this year. Fadley resigned as town officials launched an investigation into a protective order a judge imposed on him at the request of a woman who was a member of Strasburg Police Department until December.

New Market and Mount Jackson town officials are expected to hire permanent replacements later this year.

On Tuesday, Edinburg Mayor Daniel Harshman told the Board of Supervisors the town is considering dissolving its police department if an agreement can be worked out so that the Sheriff’s Office takes over law enforcement in the town.

Several law enforcement agencies in the northern Shenandoah Valley will be receiving or are already working with new technology designed to ease their record keeping burdens.

Keeping track of evidence gathered during criminal investigations has always been an unwelcome task for police, but newly acquired software is expected to make the job easier Woodstock and Strasburg.

Police chiefs Eric Reiley in Woodstock and Tim Sutherly in Strasburg are pleased with what they’ve seen so far.

In the past, police had to rummage through evidence that had accumulated for years without anyone knowing whether it was needed for a pending case or could be safely discarded.

The software uses bar codes similar to those found in grocery stories to electronically scan items when they are acquired and records their whereabouts when they are placed into storage rooms.

“A lot of times things end up in there and eventually you don’t even know where it goes to, but this way it will track and tell us when it can be destroyed and allow us to keep better control of the evidence room,” Sutherly said.

Woodstock has had the system in place since the beginning of the year. Officers with items found at a crime scene can input data into the system from their squad cars before the evidence is taken to storage.

“It gives us a clear picture of where property is at any given point,” Reiley said.

The Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services is moving toward the consolidation of two stations. The consolidation would combine the Rivermont Volunteer Fire Department at 714 Rivermont Drive with the Portsmouth Volunteer Fire Department at 53 Lower Valley Road. The consolidation proposal calls for combining both stations into a single new building at the intersection of Stokes Airport Road and Rivermont Drive.

The Rivermont station was built in 1954 and is showing its age. Fire Chief Richard E. Mabie said in a recent memorandum the Portsmouth station is newer but has only five active volunteers.

“One needs a new station and the other is struggling with attracting active volunteers,” Mabie said of the two fire companies. “Rivermont needs a whole lot of repairs and so forth and rather than putting a lot of funding into that old station, we’ll take the funding and build a new one that will last longer and meet today’s standards.”

Mabie has estimated the cost of a new station will run from $2.5 million to $3.5 million based on the experience of building the North Warren station.

Rivermont firefighters have endorsed the consolidation, but those at the Portsmouth station are resisting.

Nevertheless, Mabie, in a memorandum to Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard Traczyk, reiterated his determination to forge ahead with the consolidation.

“While we respectfully understand the feelings of the members of the Portsmouth [station] and its members, we also feel this is a business decision that is in the long term best interest of the county, the citizens and our department,” Mabie wrote. “Ultimately, the county cannot afford to fund and staff two fire stations in the area.”

A new facility is also on the mind of Front Royal Police Chief Norman Shiflett and other town officials. The town has chosen a future site for a new police headquarters on five acres on Kendrick Lane across the street from the Avtex Fibers complex.

The new headquarters would replace the building on Jackson Street that has housed most of the police department since December 2013.

The town is in the midst of choosing an architectural firm for the project after receiving design proposals in late 2014.

“Hopefully, by next year, we’ll begin construction on the facility,” Shiflett said.

A heavy tide of new criminal cases has helped Shenandoah County Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda Wiseley persuade the state to pay for a full-time victim and witness advocate, effective July 1.

The office has had a part-time advocate for years, but Wiseley has pressed to make the position full time as grand jury indictments rose from 505 in 2011, the year before Wiseley took office, to 808 in 2012 and between 1,100 to 1,200 in the last two years. Six homicides in the county in the last two years added to the pressure for a full-time advocate, Wiseley said.

The advocate informs victims and witnesses of their rights and services available to them.

Wiseley said the Board of Supervisors rejected additional funding to expand the position last year. Up until this year, the county caseload was deemed too small to qualify for funding from the state.

Wiseley sought out help from Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, who helped her lobby the state Department of Criminal Justice Services.

“DCJS agreed our numbers merited a full-time position,” Wiseley said.

Wiseley’s office is also in the midst of acquiring a new software program designed to make it easier to manage information about past and present cases. The program will store information such as the names of defendants, victims, and witnesses, the collection of restitution and future court dates.

Wiseley said the software system should be a vast improvement over the paper files her staff has been relying upon.

“We’re in the 20th century here, and we’re trying to catch up,” Wiseley said of the office’s case management system and the effort to replace it.

The money for the software – $23,000 – will come from asset forfeiture funds controlled by the state. Asset forfeiture money is derived from property, cash and other assets seized by law enforcement authorities and deemed to have been part of illegal transactions such as drug deals and fraudulent business practices.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com