Officers Reach Beyond Beat's Boundaries

Despite their department having no travel budget, Officer John Chapman, right, and Detective Charlie Gardiner of the Dumfries Police Department found ways to journey 400 miles to Ohio in an Internet child predator investigation.
Despite their department having no travel budget, Officer John Chapman, right, and Detective Charlie Gardiner of the Dumfries Police Department found ways to journey 400 miles to Ohio in an Internet child predator investigation. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Northern Ohio is a long way from Northern Virginia, and it is especially off the beat for John Chapman, a police officer in the tiny Prince William County town of Dumfries.

Yet Northern Ohio -- a small town called Monroeville, to be precise -- is exactly where Chapman needed to go on a case a few weeks ago. Problem was, his bosses couldn't afford to send him there.

Chapman had just started a unit to use the Internet to investigate crimes against children. In fact, he was the unit, working on his days off or grabbing time between police calls to enter chat rooms, where he posed as a 13-year-old boy. Before long, he had struck up a conversation with an Ohio man, who sent him lots of nude photographs of young boys. It was time to make an arrest.

But the Dumfries Police Department, with just 15 officers including the chief, doesn't have its own dispatcher, much less an extensive travel budget. So Chapman finagled $150 in gas money from the town, and he and his partner, Detective Charlie Gardiner, climbed into Gardiner's red pickup and made the 400-mile trip through the night to Ohio. To save money, they stayed with Gardiner's parents and mooched food off local police.

"I was going to do everything in my power to catch this guy," said Chapman, 41. "If that meant spending my own money, so be it."

To call Dumfries small in the world of law enforcement would be an understatement. A town of 1.6 square miles and about 5,000 people, Dumfries straddles Route 1, about 30 miles south of Washington. The police department is in a tiny, almost ramshackle office in the basement of Town Hall.

Someone hoping to find it must drive to the parking lot in the back of the building, where the police entrance has cracked white paint around the door.

Around town, the chief, Calvin L. Johnson, is known by his first name. His 14 officers handle the usual traffic crashes, fights and domestic violence calls, but anything more serious -- homicides, robberies -- is sent to Prince William police. County police also investigate all sex crimes.

Chapman vowed to change that.

A burly man with speckled gray hair and an easy smile, he has two loves in life: police work and kids.

"I love working with kids," Chapman said in a recent interview. "I'm the type of person who, if I'm driving down the street and I see a lemonade stand, I'll buy the lemonade. If kids come to the door selling candy bars, I'll buy 20. It drives my wife nuts."

Chapman and his wife, Susan, have three children, ages 3 to 12. He manages his older daughter's soccer team, speaks at school career days and, in his spare time, helps train foster parents in Stafford County, where he lives.


CONTINUED     1           >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company