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Meet Your Neighbor: Shaun Jones: Middleburg’s Chief of Police

Meet Your Neighbor: Shaun Jones: Middleburg’s Chief of Police

Written by Carlo Massimo | Photos by Michael Butcher

Several mornings a week for the past six months policeman Shaun Jones has strolled into Common Grounds, on W. Washington Street, for a cup of tea. People in Middleburg seem to be slightly taller than average, on the whole; this man is taller than most, with much bigger shoulders, and a knack for keeping his uniform pressed in sharp lines. Despite his towering stature and no nonsense approach to dressing, he’s disarmingly gentle. Until May of this year people greeted him as Lieutenant, or LT, or Big Shaun. Many of them would run into him later, on his beat, as he greeted shop owners and gave biscuits to their dogs. 

On May 1, Lieutenant Shaun D. Jones became chief of the Middleburg Police Department, taking over from A.J. Panebianco. It’s a small department, with only six full-time staff and three part-time, but the new rank is a well-deserved milestone for a 24-year police veteran like Jones, the scion of a Northern Virginia policing dynasty who made a name for himself at (among other places) the Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s Department, and who lectures on community policing.

Chief Jones won’t volunteer any of this if you don’t ask. He doesn’t want to talk about his career.  He wants to talk about the future. Just six weeks into his term as chief, Jones is brimming over with projects and ideas. “Community policing and engagement,” he shares, “is our number one priority: building rapport with the community, bridges over gaps.”

In practice, this means partnering with the American Legion for Memorial Day celebrations and sponsoring this year’s Juneteenth commemoration. His first Stuff-a-Cruiser event — a food drive in which people are invited to help fill a police car chock-full with groceries — yielded 1,000 pounds of donations for the local food bank Seven Loaves. Community policing also means cultivating close ties with Levis Hill House, a community for low-income seniors. “I come by and check on [the residents] once a week,” he says, “and if I don’t, let me tell you, I’ll hear about it from them.” 

It’s a sweet gesture, but it’s a serious one as well. Middleburg is quite a safe community, compared to other towns in Northern Virginia; former Chief Panebianco used to joke that “we don’t allow crime here.” But elder abuse, especially in the form of scams, happens more frequently than anyone would like. Chief Jones has taken a special interest in stamping it out, working with local banks to identify the signs of fraud and engaging with elderly residents.

“Now they’re starting to come to us before it happens,” he says, with evident pride.

Jones’ campaign against elder abuse reveals two typical characteristics of his tenure. One is his ability to build relationships horizontally, with partners who are neither under nor above his grade. The Middleburg police work “hand-in-hand” with their colleagues in Warrenton and the Loudoun County sheriff, but also with banks and businesses. The other is his instinctive trust in education. Jones already gives seminars for the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, and many of Jones’ big plans for Middleburg involve community classes: fraud detection courses for local banks, kids’ safety classes, and more. He is even considering a “Read with a Cop” storytelling program at one of the local toy stores, as part of that youth education effort. “Walk a Mile Wednesday,” another program in the pipeline, has a didactic angle as well. The idea is to walk with the police chief every Wednesday morning, developing healthy habits and a solid rapport with law enforcement.

It’s one of his defining traits. Jones joked that he had a protégé, with whom he speaks most mornings — his nephew, a young officer in Manassas. “He just won’t admit that I’m his mentor.”

This schoolteacher instinct appears in his internal plans for the department. When the police department finally moves to the new town hall complex on W. Marshall Street, Jones is insistent that the new hall have a gym, for the health of his officers. His other plans for the new facility are more practical, including a new bullpen for officers, a new evidence room, and updated vehicles. Jones’ insistence on what he calls the 21st-century model of policing means more and more digitization, too. This is especially true for evidence records, for instance, which at the moment must be printed and filed by hand. Jones hopes to have this new standard in place by August. It’s not the only policy that needs upgrading, Jones told us; much of his time at the desk this summer will be spent in careful review.

But policies and digital archives sometimes seem a world away, especially when the chief is out walking the beat. The animals he encounters in Middleburg fascinate him: the donkeys who eat Life Savers candies out of his hand; the dogs who expect their biscuits with strained patience; more recently a bull named Fred, whose size and grim expression seemed to have taken the brawny cop aback. 

Jones, a keen appreciator of cars, admitted that the sight of Ferraris and Porsches on the street was another unexpected pleasure of working in Middleburg. But his dedication to the town is obvious, and runs far deeper than fast cars and friendly dogs. He explains that his reaction upon arriving at the Middleburg police in December 2022 was like “falling in love.”

“Middleburg is a hidden treasure,” Jones says. “It’s a beautiful town, it’s diverse, it’s non-judgmental. Everyone is welcome here. With all the stuff going on in the world, it’s rewarding to be here. It really is the best-kept secret of Northern Virginia.” ML

Published in the July 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.

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