Thursday, April 24, 2014

Police eye lofty goal: accreditation for department

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 10/25/2013

The Ottawa Police Department is trying to achieve what only 4 percent of the 18,000 non-federal law enforcement agencies in the United States have accomplished  — accreditation.

The department is in the midst of a three-year process to become accredited through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), Dennis Butler, Ottawa police chief, said.

The Ottawa Police Department is trying to achieve what only 4 percent of the 18,000 non-federal law enforcement agencies in the United States have accomplished  — accreditation.

The department is in the midst of a three-year process to become accredited through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), Dennis Butler, Ottawa police chief, said.

CALEA, created in 1979, is a private, non-profit organization that serves as the main accreditation source for law enforcement agencies across the U.S., Butler said.

Some states have their own accreditation process, but Kansas is not one of them, the police chief said. In states that do have an accreditation process, some law enforcement agencies seek accreditation through their state as well as through CALEA, he said.

“One of the most important reasons for seeking accreditation is that the standards set forth by CALEA are considered best practices in law enforcement,” Butler said. “By seeking accreditation, we are agreeing to operate our agency consistent with what are considered to be the best practices in law enforcement in the delivery of service.”

Those standards cover the full range of law enforcement services and procedures, Butler said.

“It covers internal monitoring of our own employees’ performances, how we deliver service to the general public, how we treat arrestees, how we investigate crimes, how we handle intelligence information — and it all overlaps,” he said.

Lengthy process

About 18 months ago, Butler assigned Sgt. Bobbie Hawkins, a 30-year veteran of the Ottawa Police Department, with what he said was the extremely difficult role of serving as the department’s accreditation manager.

The department currently is in the self-assessment phase of the process, Hawkins said.

“You can’t have a procrastinator leading this,” Butler said. “You have to have someone who is driven, who can set goals, who can meet goals, who can get others who need to assist in reaching those goals to do what they need to do.”

Butler knew Hawkins was the right person in his agency for the role, because she fit all the qualities a good accreditation manager needed to possess to get the job done under the pressures of a deadline, he said.

“I’m currently writing [department] directives,” Hawkins said. “This [accreditation manager role] is something completely new for me, and I’m enjoying the challenge.”

For many years, the only accredited law enforcement agencies were large ones, because of the administration burden and oversight required for the process, Butler, who has been Ottawa’s police chief for nine years, said.

“I would have loved to have started [the accreditation process] in the first couple of years, but I couldn’t spare an extra person to focus on this,” Butler said. “We did reach a point a couple of years ago where I could see that coming. So, I planned for it and when the opportunity came up we did it, with the support of the city manager and city commission.”

Rare achievement

Only six law enforcement agencies in Kansas have achieved accreditation, according to CALEA’s website. Those agencies are the Andover Police Department, Riley County Police Department, Salina Police Department, Shawnee County Sheriff’s Office, Topeka Police Department and the University of Kansas Medical Center Police Department. If the Ottawa Police Department, with a staff of 31, achieves its goal it would become the smallest law enforcement agency in the state to be accredited, according to staffing figures on CALEA’s website.

“By seeking accreditation, I’m not trying to say, ‘Look at us, we’re the best,’” Butler, who has been through the accreditation process before as a member of the Alexandria, Va., Police Department, said. “What I am trying to demonstrate to the community is that we take professionalism very seriously.

“We’re going to be inviting people we don’t know to come in and look at what we do,” he said. “A lot of agencies don’t like doing that. I don’t think we should be afraid to do that, and I don’t think our community should tolerate us being afraid to that, so that’s why we are doing it. If we find out through assessment that we are falling short, then my commitment is we’ll fix it and make it right and do our best to meet these standards.”

Butler relayed an analogy expressed by Ray Johnson, Chesterfield, Mo., police chief and one of CALEA’s commissioners, as to the importance of accreditation. Johnson was an assessor during the recent inspection process at the Shawnee County Sheriff’s Office, which met accreditation standards for the third time.

“If you go to a restaurant in your town and don’t like the service or the food, you can walk out and never go back and go to another restaurant,” Butler said. “But when your police department fails you, or you’re disappointed, you don’t have another police department to go to. They have a monopoly on the services in your community. So why not have a mechanism or processes in place to ensure you’re giving your community the best service you can possible give, because they don’t have any other options.”

Butler agrees with the CALEA commissioner’s analogy, he said.

“That’s why we’re doing this,” he said. “I think it’s very important.”

Community feedback

One of the last pieces of the assessment puzzle, Butler said, is for assessors to conduct and on-site internal review of the department’s policies.

“[The assessors] also invite the community to give them input, so they’ll have a public forum and it will be announced well in advance and advertised,” Butler said. “Anybody in the community is welcome to attend. If they can’t attend, they can send an email, they can write a letter, they can call in. They can say whatever they want, good or bad.”

Assessors will take community feedback into account as part of their overall assessment of the Ottawa Police Department, Butler said.

“It’s a transparent process and gives people the opportunity to share their experiences with the services we provide,” he said. “I’m not afraid to do that, and I’m not afraid to hear bad news occasionally. You don’t like hearing it, but that’s part of the process as well.”

When an agency achieves accreditation, the process isn’t over because agencies continually seek to renew their accreditation, Butler said.

“We’re on the clock,” Butler said. “We’ve got to be finished with this within three years. Really about 2 2/12 years, because you have to allow enough wiggle room for the assessors to come in. If it turns out you have fallen short in a few areas, you have time to correct it before the three years ends.”

Despite the learning curve and time crunch, Butler said, he expressed confidence his department was up to the challenge.

“With patience and perseverance, we’ll get there,” he said.

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