Pr. William Chief In Uneasy Position

By Kristen Mack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 24, 2008

Prince William County Police Chief Charlie T. Deane spent many sleepless nights in a spare bedroom last fall. He would lie awake, churning over the county's crackdown on illegal immigrants, not wishing to disturb his wife.

Occasionally, he would call home from work on a Friday morning and tell Cathy to pack for the weekend. The pressure of enforcing the policy was too great. He needed to leave town, head to the family farm near Charlottesville, catch a bluegrass show.

When Deane joined the force 38 years ago, Prince William was a white farming community that considered itself part of central Virginia. But as Deane rose through the ranks, Prince William rose, too. Swept into Northern Virginia against the will of many old-timers, it has become one of the fastest-growing counties in the country, with a vibrant biotechnology corridor and a diverse, upwardly mobile population. It was here that Barack Obama held his first campaign rally after sealing the Democratic presidential nomination, seeing in Prince William a symbol of Virginia's political progress.

The changes that are unfolding in Prince William, including tensions over immigration, were unimaginable when Deane began his career. Now 62 and eligible for retirement, he is struggling to maintain the simple, honored traditions of police work even as he contemplates an uncertain future.

"Police work is about getting the right person to say the right thing," said Deane, who, after 20 years, is the longest-serving chief in the region. "It's about dealing with people and getting them to trust police."

Trust was foremost on Deane's mind in October when the Board of County Supervisors directed police officers to check the legal status of any criminal suspect, whether arrested or not, if there was reason to think the person was in the country unlawfully. Deane wondered: Would the county's Hispanics, who make up 19 percent of the population, feel threatened? Would the police force be accused of racial profiling?

Although he cautioned supervisors that residency checks would work better if handled by corrections officers at the jail, Deane carried out the crackdown without public criticism of those who crafted it. Even today, he refuses to characterize the plan as good or bad. "I don't debate the policy," Deane said. "I enforce it."

His wife, Cathy, however, saw a side of him that most of the public did not -- the reluctant enforcer who had deep reservations about the way the policy was being presented. "We talk," she said, noting that her husband is "unlike some police officers who hold everything inside. He'd be working through an issue and use me as a sounding board, pitting one side against the other until he reached a happy medium that protected everybody."

Prince William's crackdown on illegal immigrants last fall thrust the county into the national spotlight. But some on the board worried that having officers check the status of all suspects, no matter how minor the offense, could result in lawsuits and long-term damage to the county's reputation. So this past spring, the board amended the policy. The latest version, which went into effect July 1, requires officers to make residency checks after suspects are arrested, leaving the county less vulnerable to allegations of racial profiling, officials believe.

It is a change that makes Deane a little more comfortable, those close to him say.

But it has not silenced his critics.

Greg Letiecq, a local blogger and president of Help Save Manassas, a group that advocated for the original policy, has been calling for Deane's ouster for months. "His poor performance, insubordination and coddling of lawbreakers are all good reasons to demand he be replaced," Letiecq wrote recently on his blog, Black Velvet Bruce Li.

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