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A small police department's success.

The German Township, Ohio, Police Department, currently consisting of six full-time and nine reserve officers, serves a small agricultural community in southwestern Ohio of approximately 2,800 residents. (1) Like many other small police departments in rural areas, the German Township Police Department patrols relatively safe streets, free of many of the crime problems that often plague more populated areas.

However, despite its size and location, this department considered it worthwhile to face the monumental task of becoming one of the smallest forces to receive accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA). (2) Its experience demonstrates that any law enforcement agency, large or small, can find accreditation both beneficial and attainable.

What Is Accreditation?

CALEA began in 1979 through the combined efforts of the four major law enforcement membership associations--the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), the National Sheriffs' Association (NSA), and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). These organizations continue to serve in an advisory capacity and also hold responsibility for appointing the 21 volunteer commissioners (11 practicing law enforcement professionals and 10 members of the public and private sectors).

CALEA began for two purposes: to develop a set of law enforcement standards and to establish and administer a voluntary accreditation process through which law enforcement agencies can demonstrate that they meet those standards. Improving the delivery of law enforcement services is the overall goal of accrediting agencies in this manner.

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Why Become Accredited?

The German Township Police Department, like any law enforcement agency, aims for excellence in all aspects of its operations, ranging from the development of clearly defined policies and procedures to the consistent delivery of quality services to the community. Accreditation can serve as an important tool to use in that pursuit, as "... accredited law enforcement agencies in the United States, Canada, and Barbados rank among the best." (3) Agencies that choose to become accredited enjoy a number of benefits.

* Controlled liability insurance costs: accredited departments find it easier to obtain insurance, to increase the limit of their insurance coverage, and, often, to acquire lower premiums.

* Stronger defense against lawsuits and citizen complaints: in today's society, where a growing number of people quickly file lawsuits, an agency that has clear, documented policies and procedures and well-trained employees not only can handle situations effectively but also can defend themselves when necessary.

* Greater accountability within the agency: the accreditation process provides a system of written directives, sound training, clearly defined lines of authority, and routine reports that support decision making and resource allocation.

* Staunch support from government officials: agencies earn this support through their commitment to excellence in leadership, resource management, and in the delivery of their services.

* Increased community advocacy: the accreditation process offers a framework in which police and citizens can work together to prevent and control challenges confronting law enforcement and to address community expectations. Agencies that remain unsure if they should pursue accreditation can request a free information package from CALEA. This package offers descriptive information about the program and its standards.

What Is the Process?

The German Township Police Department found the road to accreditation difficult. However, with hard work and commitment at all levels of the organization and with a larger agency, the West Carrollton, Ohio, Police Department, serving as a mentor, it found success throughout the process. How can other law enforcement agencies, large and small, obtain accreditation?

Any law enforcement agency considering accreditation likely demonstrates a commitment to excellence; however, a successful pursuit of accreditation depends largely on the degree of commitment, at all levels of the agency, to the accreditation process. To this end, a firmly committed chief executive officer (CEO) should communicate, by word and deed, to the rest of the department the importance of accreditation and its benefits. This is a commitment to a process that requires agencies to ask themselves two important questions. First, are we prepared to change? Second, do we have the necessary financial and personnel resources?

While the level of procedural and administrative change will vary by agency, all organizations pursuing accreditation must remain open to any changes necessary. Striving to provide the community with the best police services possible in an ever-changing world demands such flexibility; without it, attaining accreditation will prove impossible.

Agencies also must ensure that they possess the necessary personnel to manage the accreditation process. Additionally, they must have access to the requisite financial resources to undergo the assessment and make any required changes. Some agencies may have to obtain at least some of the funds through creative means; for instance, the German Township Police Department financed the application fee through grants and donations. Other agencies simply decide not to pursue accreditation at all because of financial reasons.

However, accreditation typically offers financial benefits that outweigh the costs. For example, a local company, which handles risk management, loss control, insurance liability, and legal defense of civil lawsuits for 16 municipalities in Ohio, recently conducted a 10-year analysis of financial losses incurred by accredited and nonaccredited member agencies. It found that accredited police agencies averaged losses of $314 per year, per officer, while nonaccredited agencies averaged losses of $543 per year, per officer. Under this formula, a typical 25-member, accredited force should incur losses of about $7,850 per year; the figure for a 25-member, nonaccredited force should be about $13,575 per year. (4)

When beginning the process, the choice of the right accreditation manager (or, perhaps, in the case of a large agency, an accreditation staff) proves vital to the agency's success; this person should demonstrate commitment to the project, attention to detail, an ability to work independently, and a positive relationship with the agency's CEO. The accreditation manager oversees the accreditation process.

The process itself proves simple. An agency begins by purchasing an application package for $250 (applicable to the accreditation fee for agencies that apply within 6 months), which contains everything necessary to study and enroll in the program. CALEA considers the process to have begun formally when the agency completes and returns the appropriate application materials.

Then, the agency begins the heart of the accreditation process, the self-assessment, where it examines its policies and procedures to ensure they meet the standards set by CALEA. The German Township Police Department found itself fortunate in that it needed to create or revise relatively few policies; when doing so, the department found that involving officers in this process proved very beneficial, both drawing upon a wealth of knowledge and experience and further garnering commitment to the accreditation process.

In the next step, the on-site assessment, CALEA assessors verify the agency's compliance with all standards. CALEA prides itself in assessments that are fair, impartial, and appropriate for agencies of all sizes. After the assessment, CALEA prepares a formal, written report of its findings. If the report reflects compliance with all standards, the agency moves on to the commission review; if not, the agency may return to the self-assessment phase.

During the commission review, CALEA decides, after reviewing the final report and hearing testimony from agency and CALEA personnel, whether or not to award accreditation status. Newly accredited agencies can maintain their status for 3 years by submitting annual reports attesting to continued compliance (which, of course, may involve additional changes); at the end of the 3-year period, the agency may repeat the process and continue accredited status into the future.

Conclusion

The German Township Police Department found going to the effort and expense of enduring this process worthwhile--after all, accreditation offers many benefits. The impact has proven positive. They have a chief who can lay his head down to sleep at night, knowing that the community enjoys protection by the best. Department morale remains at an all-time high, with officers taking great pride in their recognition as being among the best in the nation.

Other departments, both large and small, can look at the experience of the German Township Police Department and realize that accreditation proves attainable. It takes effort and money, but the benefits far outweigh the costs, monetary and otherwise.

Endnotes

(1) DaytonClassifieds.com; retrieved on May 28, 2003, from http://206.190.169.132/classifieds/montgomery/germtwp.htm.

(2) For more information, see CALEA On-line, http://www.calea.org; and Robert J. Falzarano, "Law Enforcement Accreditation: One Department's Experience," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, November 1999, 1-5.

(3) Margaret J. Levine, "Accreditation: Celebrating 20 Years of Excellence"; retrieved on May 28, 2003, from http://www.calea.org/newweb/accreditation%20info/Levine%20article.htm.

(4) John Nielsen and Danny O' Malley, "Accreditation Saves Money"; retrieved on May 28, 2003, from http://www.calea.org/newweb/accreditation%20info/accreditation_saves_money.htm.

Chief Wilcox heads the German Township, Ohio, Police Department.
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Title Annotation:Focus on Accreditation
Author:Wilcox, William L.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Feb 1, 2004
Words:1459
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