By Gayle Carter
Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid credits the Jewish values she grew up with for instilling in her a mission to “trying to right the wrongs I saw.”
“The Jewish values I was taught growing up showed my brother and me how to treat people with respect,” says the county’s first female sheriff and most likely the county’s first Jewish sheriff.
After cold-calling her way into a college internship at the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office and discovering the many “opportunities” to make a difference there, Kincaid’s path to law school post-graduation was diverted.
“The thought was I’ll go to work for the sheriff’s office and then I’ll go to law school and that’s how I’ll save the world with my cape and tiara.” Clearly, saving the world began and ended at the sheriff’s office for Kincaid, who is still there 28 years later.
The once male-dominated office could have been an intimidating place for a young woman, but Kincaid had a champion in her corner.
“My mentor was my mother. She was a fantastic woman” says Kincaid, whose mother died in 2003 after a long battle with cancer. “She was the first one who told me I could be the first woman sheriff of Fairfax County. Back in the ’80s, that wasn’t really a popular thing,” acknowledges Kincaid, 50.
“Not when you were going to the Criminal Justice Academy, and there were signs up at the pistol range which featured a picture of a range and a picture of an oven [with the question]: ‘Ladies which range do you belong at?’ She was my hero, someone who told you [that] you could do anything you wanted to do when you put your mind to it.”
When Kincaid gives talks to children, she gives this message of confidence and self-empowerment: You can be whoever you want to be and don’t let anybody else tell you you can’t.
“Being a role model is something I take great pride in,” says Kincaid. She’s especially attuned to young girls, she says. “Women do have to work harder than men in anything that they do,”
Interacting with her constituents in Fairfax County, whether schoolchildren or grown-ups, has been one of Kincaid’s goals.
A rundown of her calendar for one week in April shows that commitment with activities ranging from speaking at the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court to attending the Future Women Leaders in Law Enforcement Networking Social; from helping promote companion animal adoptions at the county animal shelter to walking in the National Crime Victims’ Rights Week 5K.
The point of putting herself out there, says Kincaid, is to take away any “fear” people have about the sheriff’s department. Fairfax has the largest sheriff’s office in the state with more than 600 employees and a $63 million budget, has three primary functions: operating the Adult Detention Center, providing security in the courthouse, and serving civil papers, such as eviction notices, child protective orders and subpoenas.
“You’re dealing with people at their most vulnerable,” says Delegate Marcus Simon, a Falls Church Democrat. He runs into the sheriff or someone from her department at many of the public event he attends. “How people perceive that experience is critical in their ability to bounce back or spiral downward,” says Simon about the value of having a sheriff out and about.
Kincaid, a Democrat, was elected as sheriff during a special election in 2013. She is seeking a full four-year term this year. Republican Bryan Wolfe is challenging her for the position.
A bigger challenge for Kincaid is the jail where more than half of the population has a mental health and/or addiction problem. In February, a mentally ill inmate died in what was later ruled an accident linked in part to the use of a stun gun to shock her while she was shackled. An investigation is ongoing. Meanwhile, in the wake of the inmates’s death, the sheriff’s office has temporarily suspended the use of stun guns at the county jail. In light of the death, the office has come under criticism.
“The jail is the largest warehouse, the no-refusal place where it becomes easier to bring people to get better, to get them off the street. But once you get them off street, now what? We don’t have enough time to start a treatment program and this creates a vicious cycle. It’s awful,” says Kincaid.
“The mentally ill are an invisible population,” she says. “In a perfect world, we’d have the resources, the funding, the space to build a crisis-care facility that is able to provide the best possible treatment — because jail is not it. We try to do the best we can, but we’re not doctors, and it’s not against the law to be mentally ill. It’s incredibly sad. We have been applying for grants, looking for solutions to be able to get mechanisms in place. We have to work collaboratively as a community for the mentally ill and the population in need.”
Kincaid has also placed a priority on creating a diverse workplace that reflects the community. Women now make up 27 percent of all staff and 20 percent of the 509 deputies. One-third of the staff, both sworn and civilian, is nonwhite.
While work is 24-7, Kincaid makes time for exercise, crafting jewelry to be used for fundraisers [in tribute to her mother] and spending time with her family, which includes her husband, Capt. Greg Kincaid, a 30-year veteran of the Virginia State Police and division commander with the Bureau of Criminal Investigations in Fairfax County.
Like most Washington two high-pressure career couples, Kincaid credits their success to “balance… he understands,” says Kincaid, whose the “Type A” in the family.
“I’m Type A, but modified Type A, because I’ve learned sometimes patience is not in my wheelhouse and my sense of urgency is not the same as others. I get Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I just want the best.”