Northumberland County’s Sheriff, Johnny Beauchamp, met with about 50 people Sunday to talk about his department and how it deals with the public. The meeting was arranged by a group of local people concerned about the current state of policing in the country, particularly with regard to police dealings with minorities.
Beauchamp opened the meeting by saying he is “sick to my soul” about things such as the recent killing of George Floyd by a police officer. “That’s not why I became a police officer.” A lengthy period of questions and answers between Beauchamp and the gathering followed.
The Reverend Tyron Williams opened the discussion with a question regarding the use of force. Beauchamp responded that it is a delicate matter. “It doesn’t take much to cross the line when you have to use force. You have to use just enough to overcome resistance.” Beauchamp said his department reviews its use of force policies annually.
It was difficult to identify those asking questions. They were wearing coronavirus masks and didn’t announce their names. One person asked what the policies on hiring deputies are. Beauchamp noted that the base requirements are in the Virginia Code and local inquiries about applicants are also made. When asked how many minority people worked for his department, Beauchamp answered nine out of 40 employees, about 25 percent.
Others wanted to know how often sheriff’s department employees’ conduct is reviewed. Beauchamp responded that there is a formal, annual review and if concerns are raised between reviews, they are investigated.
A number of questions centered on concerns that officers have relatively little training in dealing with minorities and that the department’s policies and procedures aren’t made public. Several people suggested that some sort of community involvement in those and other matters would be desirable so that citizens could bring their expertise into the conversations. Beauchamp was amenable to working toward that.
Williams suggested a board of some name be set up where members of the community could figure out what the county’s race relations problems really are and that might help the sheriff’s department in dealing with them. Beauchamp thought that might be a good idea.
Only one specific complaint about the Northumberland department was voiced. A white man said he was ignored by the department when he tried to make a complaint and, when he complained about that to the Lancaster department a “state agent” was sent to his home which he took as as an attempt to intimidate him. The man said it was under an earlier sheriff and did not say when it happened.
Several people indicated that they were hesitant to come to the sheriff about matters that concerned them. Beauchamp said they should feel free to contact him and he would look into their concerns.
Laurie Morrissette, who has been active in matters regarding local race relations said after the meeting that Beauchamp had calmly, directly and honestly dealt with the people at the meeting which was encouraging. Williams said he was “glad to see the sheriff’s willingness to work with the community.”