On Tuesday, longtime Fairfax County police commander Maggie A. DeBoard was sworn in as the chief of police in Herndon, and she appears to be the first woman ever to run a municipal or county police department in Northern Virginia. Beth Arthur is the sheriff of Arlington County, but Arlington has a separate police department. Connie Novak was the chief of Warrenton until last year, but that is outside the rigidly defined boundaries of the State of NoVa.
DeBoard, 48, takes over a department of 57 sworn officers in the town of 23,000, replacing Toussaint E. Summers Jr., who retired in November. She was deputy chief in charge of investigations and operations support in Fairfax, and formerly commanded the Franconia station and the special operations division. She is well-respected by the ground troops in Fairfax for her willingness to take on tough physical assignments — she was the first woman to pass the physical tests to be a SWAT officer — and she spent four years as an undercover narcotics officer.
Town officials said they were thrilled to have DeBoard. So I wanted to speak with her about taking over a police department and the specific challenges of Herndon, particularly its ongoing immigration enforcement program, which her Fairfax department wanted no part of. But DeBoard declined to speak with me, and earlier to another reporter. Which poses an interesting dilemma for Herndon. The town is no stranger to the spotlight, and now it has taken on a police chief who has no interest in dealing with the news media, and who has said she’s no fan of the administrative side of police work.
For police chiefs, reporters and paperwork are pretty much part of the job.
DeBoard joins fellow Fairfax alums Rick Rappoport (Fairfax City) and Robert Carlisle (Vienna) as heads of the three municipal police departments within Fairfax County. Fairfax Chief David M. Rohrer told the Fairfax County Times, “It’s hard to lose such a highly qualified, dedicated and talented commander as Maggie,” and Carlisle told me that DeBoard was a terrific officer who will do “a great job” in Herndon. No one that I spoke to could remember a female chief in Northern Virginia.
The selection of DeBoard by Herndon surprised some because her reputation in Fairfax is as someone who is eminently competent and qualified, but also blunt, candid and not always tactful with those who work for her. She also may become a defendant in an ongoing defamation lawsuit filed by a Fairfax police captain against Chief Rohrer
In addition to not speaking with me, DeBoard also wouldn’t speak with Gregg MacDonald from the Fairfax County Times when he called after Herndon announced her appointment last month.
In 2005, I did a story about the fact that four of the eight district stations in Fairfax were run by women captains. One of those captains was DeBoard. District stations are like mini-police departments in Fairfax, overseeing 100,000 or more citizens each, and it seemed newsworthy that half of the county was being handled by women in a profession that was 87 percent men.
Arranging an interview with DeBoard was difficult, though eventually I spoke with her by phone, and then she refused to be photographed for the story. One of the other captains was called away the day of the photo shoot. So the story about the four women station commanders had a photo of two of them. (The story, brilliant as it was, is not available online.)
In that story, DeBoard related that she was a native of Prince George’s County and a graduate of George Mason University. Of the four women in the story, DeBoard was the only one who had avoided the desk jobs typical of rising police commanders. Her love of soccer and athletics pushed her toward active jobs such as the bike team and special operations. She was also the only one who said she wasn’t completely sold on running a patrol district, because of all the administrative duties.
She was Fairfax’s first female SWAT captain, as well as its first female SWAT officer, and said, “I just always liked doing that kind of work. When you get a job where you can go rappelling out of a helicopter, that’s the ultimate for me.”
Not so sure she’s going to get that opportunity much in Herndon.
Fast forward now to 2011 and Rohrer has promoted DeBoard to deputy chief, one of three directly reporting to him. An anonymous letter claimed that a captain in charge of the detective promotional process, Denise Hopson, ran the process unfairly. Rohrer orders an investigation.
Then, before the investigation was completed, Rohrer sent out e-mails sharply criticizing Hopson, and the chief ordered previously promoted detectives back to their original posts. The move struck many as strange. Rohrer is notoriously deliberate in his decision-making. Some call his in-box “the Black Hole.” But here, he took action before the case had been fully checked out.
Hopson sued Rohrer for defamation in October, and said in her suit that she believed “Chief Rohrer was urged to make the decisions and statements by Deputy Chief Maggie DeBoard, who for unrelated reasons bore ill will towards” Hopson and her husband. Hopson’s lawyer wrote that if pretrial discovery confirmed DeBoard’s involvement, the new Herndon chief would be added as a defendant to the ongoing suit.
Presumably Herndon knew about all this when they hired her, and these are the kinds of internal squabbles that police commanders deal with all the time. (Though it’s hugely unusual for a police captain to file a lawsuit against her own chief — and deputy chief? -- for libel.) Presumably DeBoard is fine with enforcing an aggressive immigration enforcement policy her employer for the last 25 years rejected. And presumably she’ll be happy overseeing a town about one-fifth the size of the Franconia patrol district she once headed, though with her diverse experience in Fairfax she should be well prepared.
I say presumably because she’s not talking. So far.