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WHY SHOULD AN AGENCY BE ACCREDITED?

For years, law enforcement administrators and elected policy makers have been seeking a bonafide method of measuring the performance and accountability of police agencies. Most of the methods entailed some formula with percentages for crime rates or field activities. Those techniques were routinely challenged because the results were so easily manipulated and never completely had universal standards for comparing one agency to the next, nor did they speak to the accountability of an organization to its constituents for the manner in which a public agency was administered.

The law enforcement accreditation system establishes a uniform set of “Best Practices” for police agencies that are consistent on an international scale, measurable, verified by an independent body as to compliance, and creates an accountability to the community, elected policy makers, and the line officers who are performing the day to day work. Within the law enforcement standards of Best Practices are compliance requirements dealing with life, health, safety, and high liability exposures.

Every standard is intended to make an agency more professional while at the same time improving its services to the community. There is no conceivable reason an agency would not want to comply with the standards whether or not they participate in a formal accreditation process.

Oregon is still in a genesis stage of evolving law enforcement from an under developed and separate discipline to an integrated community organization wherein professionalism and accountability are commonplace.

Chief Rod Brown (Ret)
McMinnville Police Department



The Oregon Accreditation Alliance (OAA) was formed to provide all Oregon law enforcement agencies, regardless of size, an opportunity to become accredited. The issues addressed by accreditation standards are not confined to certain regions, size of agency, or type of law enforcement agency. They are universal concerns for all law enforcement.

OAA standards are all derived verbatim from standards produced by the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). Each OAA standard is mandatory in the CALEA program. They relate to the operation of police agencies according to recognized industry benchmarks. Accreditation of one kind or another is the hallmark of virtually every recognized profession. Operating a police agency in compliance with accepted industry standards constitutes good, responsible administration.

Unfortunately, accreditation is frequently seen as liability mitigation. In truth, the mitigation of liability is just a consequence of accreditation. Its real purpose is the safety and efficiency of an agency's personnel. Standards related to collecting and preserving evidence; emergency vehicle operation and pursuits; use of force; training; and investigative procedures have to do with successfully protecting the public and officers and the apprehension and successful prosecution of criminals. That liability is mitigated as a consequence is an added benefit, but should not be confused with the basic purpose of accreditation.

One of the inherent strengths of accreditation results from the proof files that many people choose to view as a “paper blizzard”, or a “paperwork nightmare”, or “just lots of bureaucracy.” While there is a significant amount of work attendant to creating these files, they are in fact the proof of compliance and that proof is validated by an assessor from outside the agency. If you consider what that really means, you recognize that any challenge to an accredited agency's policies and procedures, whether in a civil or criminal court, must also challenge the nation's entire law enforcement industry. The industry's recognized standards have been met and a proof file exists with an outside assessor's signature on each individual file, attesting to the fact that each standard has been met. As a practical matter, the burden now shifts to the challenger to demonstrate that the industry is wrong. The entire industry has effectively become the accredited agency's ally.

Accreditation also provides police administrators a blue print for an effective evaluation of their agency. It would be difficult to develop a more thorough review of an agency's operation and, even then, there would be the question of how to gauge the performance without some benchmark for comparison. Even a very complete evaluation internally, applied for the purpose of improving an agency's performance, lacks a mechanism for sustaining that performance. Again, accreditation provides an advantage in its requirements for continuing compliance.

The most common reasons offered for an agency's decision not to pursue accreditation are lack of manpower, deficient building/facility, fiscal constraints and time. If called upon to explain to a jury why an agency chooses not to benchmark its performance against accepted industry standards, or why the agency declines to be assessed from the outside, an agency representative will necessarily admit an inability to meet the requirements of accreditation. That is not a very solid defense of policy and procedure, regardless of whether the court is civil or criminal. When a police administrator asks the question, “Why would I want to become accredited?” it begs the question, “As a responsible administrator, why would you not want to be accredited?”

Chief Lane Roberts
Redmond Police Department



About three years ago at an OACP meeting, I heard several Chiefs express concerns that they had for the future of their agencies in light of the pending retirement. They were concerned about finding the people within their departments that had the vision, leadership skills, administrative abilities and other qualifications that would be required to assume the executive leadership responsibility for their agencies. Several chiefs raised issues that I as a newer chief of police was already finding to be problematic in my own agency.

For almost 20 years, my agency had not promoted from within, not even Sergeants. Because of that long standing policy, the department had many “Good Officers”, but no officers that had been prepared for leadership in supervisory or managerial roles. The retiring Chief changed the past practice when a new City Administrator permitted a change. He appointed 3 new Sergeants in the 18 months before he left. Two of them left for the Supervisors Course at the Academy after I started as Chief. My point is; there was no career development done to prepare people in my agency for leading the agency and I had bigger problems than the other chiefs.

At the next OACP conference I attended, I heard other Chiefs talking about “Accreditation”. I attended the first meetings held to organize the OAA, listened to the benefits of becoming accredited and began to see that I could use “Accreditation” as a tool to professionalize my agency and provide career development and leadership training to members of my agency, regardless of their rank or assignment. It worked! In a less than two years, we were able to raise the bar for professionalism throughout the department and at the same time develop the next generation of leaders. It feels good to know that the department will be in good hands.

The next positive consequence of Accreditation, that we hadn't anticipated, is that when I announced that I would be retiring earlier than expected, there was less concern or uncertainty about the future of the department. There was a confidence amongst employees that the department would continue to move forward and wouldn't slip backwards. We are “Accredited” and if we maintain our standards, we'll be OK, was the general feeling. It really reduced the organizational trauma and unknowns that are sometimes part of bringing in a “New Chief”. Our Accreditation Certificate is a daily reminder that we are a professional, competent and well run organization, changing one person will not diminish that.

As a result of the recruitment, 35 people submitted applications for the Chief's position. It was interesting to note that 5 of the 6 top candidates were from “Accredited” agencies. I had the chance to visit with each of the finalists; all of them told me that they wanted to work for an “Accredited” department. For obvious reasons, they were all complimentary in their remarks about our department, but the main theme or thread in what they were telling me was that; they wanted to lead an agency that already has high professional standards and “Accreditation” insures that. They don't have to worry about hiring on and then finding out the ship is sinking. It is a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” for police departments who are trying to attract quality employees, from patrol officer to chief.

Chief Mike Sweeny
Central Point Police Department

 

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