The search for a new police chief for Prince William County has begun in earnest, with the county recently accepting its last applications. A committee will begin reviewing candidates, and county supervisors are beginning to paint a portrait of the kind of person they would like to replace now-retired Charlie T. Deane, a community fixture for decades.

Meanwhile, community leaders who are not officially part of the hiring process are also weighing in — with the issue of illegal immigration at the forefront. When county officials moved to require the police to ask residents about their immigration status, Deane was seen as a moderating force in 2007, helping to persuade the board to change the policy and require a check only after an arrest.

“You’ve got to be a big supporter of local immigration . . . enforcement” to be the county’s new chief, Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) said in an interview. “We’re not going to revisit that, and we want the new chief to be on board with that policy.”

U.S. immigration authorities announced earlier this month that a partnership allowing local police officers to enforce federal immigration law may be coming to an end this year. Stewart has vowed to push measures that circumvent the effect of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement decision.

Supervisor Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge) said the job is a complex one. Prince William is Northern Virginia’s sole “majority-minority” county, and a diverse community often has its own challenges; illegal immigration is again on the front burner; and the new chief must be able to deal with increasingly complex crime with limited resources.

“We need someone who can come in and do that on day one,” Principi said.

County Executive Melissa S. Peacor declined to discuss the number and names of any candidates or the criteria by which they will be evaluated. County leaders have said they hope to have someone selected around the beginning of the new year.

The position closed Oct. 17. An eight-member panel — which Principi said was nominated by Peacor and approved by the board — is sorting through the résumés. That panel will narrow the candidate pool for Peacor, who will then recommend at least three names to the board. The board has the final say.

The panel’s membership has not been publicly named. According to a county official familiar with the search, it consists of Peacor, two deputy county executives, Fire and Rescue Chief Kevin McGee, Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert (D), Sheriff Glendell Hill (R) and county residents Donna Widawski and W. Ralph Basham. The official who provided the list requested anonymity because supervisors have not made it public.

Widawski was a prominent voice in support of Prince William’s anti-illegal immigration efforts in 2007. Basham, a county resident, is the former commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and head of the U.S. Secret Service. He now runs a private consulting group.

Widawski declined to comment. Basham could not be reached.

Carlos Castro, the owner of Todos Supermarket in Dumfries, said the county should select a chief not for political reasons but on his or her merits. Castro, who played an active role in the debate over immigration and police in 2007, said internal candidates — such as acting Chief Barry Barnard and assistant chiefs Steve Hudson, Mike Crosbie and Jay Lanham — should be considered because “they know the community and they have grown with it.”

“I definitely would like to see somebody have the same personality as Chief Deane and somebody who doesn’t play politics,” Castro said.

Deane departed in September after a 42-year career that spanned dramatic growth and change in Prince William. The county doubled in population, the police department more than doubled in size, and the nature of law enforcement in the Virginia suburb changed as the county grew more populous, denser and more diverse.

Prince William also saw some of the region’s most brutal and perplexing crimes, among them the Washington area sniper shootings, an attack by the “East Coast Rapist” and the 1993 Lorena Bobbitt case.

Today, the county’s police department has about 600 officers.