Friday, December 19, 2014

Police disband reserve force

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 10/30/2013

The Ottawa Police Department’s quest to achieve national accreditation has prompted an unforeseen side effect: having to disband its four-officer reserve unit.

The police 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’s quest to achieve national accreditation has prompted an unforeseen side effect: having to disband its four-officer reserve unit.

The police 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.

As part of the accreditation process, CALEA standards specify that every member of the reserve force must complete the same training as a full-time certified police officer, Butler said. Certification requires 576 hours of training at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center in Hutchinson, in addition to 40 hours of annual training to maintain certification.

The reserve officers declined to pursue the more than 500 hours of academy training, the chief said.

“They have other careers and other jobs, and it just didn’t make sense for them, given their situations,” Butler said.

Butler felt “terrible” about having to disband the reserve unit, he said. The chief spoke with Jeff Richards, Franklin County sheriff, and the sheriff agreed to allow the four reserve officers to join the sheriff’s reserves unit, if they were interested, Butler said. One reserve officer pursued that option with the sheriff’s office, he said.

One of the four reserves — a retired police officer — had been through the police academy, but did not show interest in going through the annual 40 hours of training to maintain certification, Butler said.

Only 4 percent of the 18,000 non-federal law enforcement agencies in the United States have earned accreditation. Ottawa would be the smallest law enforcement agency in Kansas to earn the distinction, based on staffing numbers posted on CALEA’s website. Only half a dozen law enforcement agencies in Kansas have obtained CALEA certification.

“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 in a recent interview. “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.

But, according to CALEA’s standards, that means all officers who wear a department’s uniform, carry a gun and are authorized to make arrests must undergo the same training, regardless of whether the officer is full-time or reserve, Butler said.

“Did I go into this accreditation process thinking we would have to disband [the reserve unit]? Absolutely not,” Butler said. “Even though I overlooked that possibility, it wouldn’t have changed my decision to pursue accreditation. I think the long-term benefits of obtaining accreditation are very important.”

Still, Butler said, he regrets losing the reserves.

“They provided us with a tremendous amount of support,” Butler said, including a wide range of areas from increasing patrols for special events to working crowd and traffic control in emergency situations and other activities. “We certainly appreciate all they have done for the department.”

The move to disband the reserve unit does not affect members of the police department’s Volunteers in Police Service or VIPS program, Butler said.

The community’s Ol’ Marais River Run car show in September, which attracts thousands of people to the community, was the last event the reserve officers worked before disbanding the unit, Butler said. The department is planning a reception in November to honor the reserve officers, he said.

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