Herndon conducts review after Fairfax County training academy cuts ties with town’s police department

Herndon Police Department (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The Town of Herndon is conducting an external review after the Fairfax County Criminal Justice Training Academy said it will stop sending graduates to the Herndon Police Department.

The move came after Herndon Police Chief Maggie DeBoard reportedly took issue with graduation certificates that were signed in Chinese by the academy’s director, Major Wilson Lee, who is Chinese American.

“This is not acceptable for my agency,” she wrote to Lee in an email, according to a report by the Washington Post. “I don’t want our Herndon officers to receive these.”

In a statement released yesterday (Thursday), Herndon Town Manager Bill Ashton II said the town is reviewing the incident to “determine intent by all parties.”

“Our objective is to restore our mutually beneficial working relationship with the county but also — and more importantly — to convey without qualification that officers of the Herndon Police Department are steadfast in their commitment toward protection and public safety for all members of our community,” Ashton wrote.

According to NBC4, which first reported the dispute, Lee has signed the certificates in Chinese since becoming director of the training academy a year ago. But after seeing the signatures prior to a March 7 graduation ceremony for 61 law enforcement trainees, DeBoard asked the academy to reissue the certificates for Herndon’s incoming officers.

Her email to Lee argued that the certificates should be signed in English, which is “the language that they are expected to use as an officer,” the Post reported.

The Fairfax County Police Department declined to reissue the certificates, and DeBoard’s request “led to a heated discussion” between her and Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis at the graduation ceremony, according to the Post. DeBoard told NBC4 that Davis “inappropriately accused me of being racist and made other disparaging remarks to me.”

According to the Post’s report, Deputy County Executive Thomas Arnold notified DeBoard in a March 18 letter that he was terminating the Town of Herndon’s affiliation with the academy, effective June 1, calling DeBoard’s actions “inconsistent with the culture of Fairfax County and our One Fairfax Policy.”

Adopted by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 2017, the One Fairfax policy dictates that all government officials consider racial and social equity issues when providing services and creating public policy.

In the statement, Ashton said inclusiveness and respect for all members of the community are “operating tenets” of the HPD.

“It is unfortunate that Chief DeBoard’s recent interaction with Fairfax County’s Criminal Justice Academy has been viewed as discriminatory,” Ashton said. “I have personally known Chief DeBoard for over 12 years and this interaction is completely inconsistent with the dedicated public servant that I know, who has served this town and Fairfax County with honor and distinction for many years.”

When contacted by FFXnow, the FCPD said it did “not have comments on this topic at this time.”

Here’s what the department wrote to the Post:

“Our last several recruit classes are majority minority as we make historic strides to better reflect the community we serve. Any expressed sentiments that appear to take issue with these realities are unfortunate and not reflective of Fairfax County’s commitment” to its One Fairfax policy.

DeBoard became the first female police chief in Northern Virginia when she was appointed to lead Herndon’s department in 2012. She served as head of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police in 2020 and 2021.

Established in 1985, the Fairfax County Criminal Justice Academy provides training to recruits who go on to serve the FCPD, the Fairfax County sheriff’s and fire marshal’s offices, and the Herndon and Vienna police departments.