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Chiefs say accreditation increases transparency, lowers exposure

​As police departments look to increase accountability and limit their liability and risk exposure, some agencies pursue voluntary state and international law enforcement accreditation.

The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies was created as a credentialing authority by a joint effort of organizations, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Sheriff's Association.

CALEA's accreditation programs have several aims, such as

  • improving the delivery of public safety services by maintaining a body of standards that cover a wide range of public safety initiatives,
  • establishing and administering an accreditation process, and
  • recognizing professional excellence.

On the state side, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Accreditation program is an initiative of the S.C. Police Chiefs' Association and the S.C. Sheriffs' Association. S.C. CALEA is also a voluntary program for professional improvement, designed to meet local needs while also demonstrating a commitment to professional law enforcement practices. 

"The accreditation process allows your agency and its operational procedures to be reviewed by outside experts qualifying that you are, in fact, doing what you say you are doing," said City of Clemson Police Chief Jimmy Dixon.

The process makes officer safety, agency accountability and department transparency high priorities, according to North Augusta Police Chief John Thomas.

Mauldin Police Chief Bryan Turner said his department began the accreditation process in 2008 and worked through self assessments until their initial accreditation in 2011. 

"Through this process, we enhanced the way we did things both internally and externally," Turner said. "Accreditation provided a working foundation for evaluation and helped us improve our overall performance as a police agency."

Greenwood Police Chief Gerald Brooks said that accreditation allows his police department to meet the wide variety of challenges they face and to demonstrate professional excellence in the process.

"It provides a state-of-the-art management framework for both operational and administrative responsibilities, and ensures that we are well-managed, well-trained, and well-prepared," Brooks said.

Accreditation is also useful as a defense mechanism during a lawsuit, according to law enforcement officials.

An accredited agency's policies are developed in accordance with standards that have been adopted either nationally or statewide. Therefore, it is much easier for defense attorneys to present facts showing that the policy was approved through an accreditation assessment and is an accepted practice among law enforcement agencies across the nation, Dixon said.

Accreditation also sharply reduces a police department's liability and mitigates risk, Brooks said. 

"The accreditation process helps identify organizational risks while providing proven mitigation strategies," said the Greenwood chief. "Compliance with the standards ensures that an agency is doing the right thing the right way. Liability claims against our department have become an absolute rarity."

What it costs
Initial CALEA fees are about $8,500 for a small agency and $20,000 for a large one, followed by annual Continuation Agreement fees of about $3,500 to $5,800, depending on the agency's size.

State accreditation through the SC Police Accreditation Coalition costs $150 per three-year cycle. In addition, prospective agencies may also join the coalition, which provides quarterly training and mock assessments for both international and state accredited agencies.

Each agency develops its own procedural manual in direct relation to the state standards or CALEA standards, depending on which accreditation they are working toward. The agency also must provide three years of secondary documentation for each standard that is reviewed for reaccreditation every three years.

Dixon thinks each agency should at least be state accredited.

"The cost for the state accreditation is nowhere close to being cost prohibitive," said the Clemson chief. "My view of the state accreditation program is that it is a recipe book for how we should conduct day-to-day business. If an agency is not operating within the state standards, by all means they should be."

However, some agencies do not pursue accreditation because of fear of losing control, Turner said. 

"A few years back, another police chief in the state mentioned he didn't want to pursue accreditation because he didn't want someone else coming in and telling him how to run his department," said the Mauldin chief.

"Accreditation outlines best practices throughout the law enforcement community. Those best practices are relayed through standards to each agency," Turner said. "Accreditation does not say you must do things the same way from agency to agency, but that if you decide to do things a certain way, then you should at least meet the generally accepted standards."

While the accreditation process is challenging, it is time and money well spent, said Brooks. "Accreditation will improve the professionalism and service delivery of any police department. It will ensure a fair and equitable work environment for all employees," he said. "It will reduce the department's exposure to liability, increase organizational transparency and enhance the public's confidence."