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Back to Archives | Back to March 2010 Contents 

One Department’s Experience: CALEA Accreditation

Robert W. Metzger, Chief of Police, Sylvania Township Police Department, Sylvania, Ohio


he management of any police department is a challenge. The need to balance the expectations of the elected officials, the community, and the staff is something that can be both frustrating and rewarding. How to maintain this balance in any agency, especially one that has been in upheaval for some time, can be difficult even under the best circumstances.

The Sylvania Township Police Department in Ohio is an example of a department that has seen this type of upheaval. Managing this agency effectively has required hard decisions and internal changes that have often times not been enthusiastically adopted by the staff. Attempting to make these changes manageable, and ensuring that the effects of these changes will be long lasting, has been challenging. The decision to deal with these issues included pursuing accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Incorporated (CALEA).


Department Background

The Sylvania Township Police Department is in northwestern Ohio on the Michigan border, just west of Toledo. The department serves a community of approximately 28,000 residents. The township is primarily residential with some commercial development along some of the major roads. Staffing consists of 47 police officers and 16 civilian staff. The department provides 24-hour patrol coverage for an area of 28 square miles and 24-hour dispatch service for both police and fire. There is a detective unit, a community policing unit, a records department, a property control manager, a special response team (SWAT), and membership in two task forces in the Lucas County area, with one officer assigned to each. The headquarters building is a modern facility that houses the dispatch, records, detectives, and auxiliary functions and an indoor pistol range. The community policing unit is housed in a substation in a shopping area in the township. There is also an outdoor pistol and rifle range used by many departments.

Over the past 20 years, the department and the community have experienced tremendous growth. Funding for police operations comes through three separate levies approved by voters on three separate occasions. These levies have allowed the department to maintain an appropriate service and staffing level and keep the area crime rate low. Even in these difficult economic times, the department has been able to maintain operations at the same level.

This is not to say that everything has gone smoothly. As with most agencies, issues arose that required attention. At times, these issues became public and caused the political leaders to become more involved in the department. Twice during this time, the elected officials contracted with a consultant to conduct an in-depth study of the department. Information given to the elected officials from both inside and outside sources indicated that there were internal issues that needed review.

These studies, conducted about 11 years apart, made major recommendations about the needs in the department. In both of these studies, the need for improved training and internal controls were the major emphasis. Interestingly, both studies noted that the service to the community was not a problem, and it in fact received better than average reviews. These studies, though many years apart, showed the department had potential but needed to make significant changes. The recommendations from the first study still had useful information about the department's needs, although the department had acted on none of the recommendations. The second, more detailed study was a good blueprint of the needs of the department, and it added to the recommendations of the previous study. The earlier study did not deal with some of the internal issues that eventually caused such a high turnover of police chiefs in a relatively short time.

After the first study was completed, there began a series of events that caused further turmoil in the department. Over the course of the next 10 years, there were five police chiefs appointed to the department. All of these appointments came from outside the department, as the leaders at the time believed there were no internal candidates who could handle the chief's duties. In some cases, the police chief lasted less than a year. In a couple of cases, the person hired as chief was not a certified police officer in Ohio. All of the police chiefs came in with good intentions and made changes that they felt were necessary for the department. This caused constant change and, in some cases, turmoil in the department.

In 2006, the department’s consultant completed the second study. The chief had recently resigned from the department and the captain was now the acting chief. The elected officials decided that a complete review of department operations was in order and contracted with this outside company. These officials also elected to go with outside assistance to get the department back on solid ground. The person conducting this study had recently retired from a local CALEA-accredited department. During this study, he spent many months in the department reviewing it from the inside out. He interviewed officers as well as others outside the department. The study presented to the elected officials had many details on effectively transforming the department. From this report, a decision was made, and criteria set, to conduct a national search for a new police chief. The township officials retained the services of a national executive placement firm, and, from that search, a new police chief was hired from outside the department.


Challenges

The challenges facing the Sylvania Township Police Department are interesting. In summary, they are as follows:

Management: The management challenge was establishing a police chief presence when historically this position was short lived and staff generally perceived the chief to be unqualified. Many officers felt that they could run the department without the chief, something that they had been doing somewhat successfully for many years. There was also a mistrust of the motives of management.

Internal Controls: Another challenge facing the department was a lack of internal controls. The studies noted that policies were weak at best, with the last study indicating that all policies were deficient and unusable, so the process for establishing new policies started over. Obviously, this was something that had to be done, but it would take time to do it properly.

Lack of Written Directives: The directives that were in place were scattered. Some were handwritten. There was no serviceable index of the directives. There was no established numbering system, and the system for putting them out to officers was not clearly defined. There was no indication of who was issuing these policies or under what authority they were being issued.

Lack of Internal Review: Supervisors and administrators were not required to review much of what staff did, and what they did review was not formalized in any significant way. There was a good property system in place, but even this lacked any kind of auditing function.

Lack of Unified Direction: The department was unclear on its mission, though it did well in the community. No one was sure where the department’s mission statement came from or even what it meant. There was not a clear idea in the department of where it was going or where it should be heading. With the high number of chiefs in such a short time, this was to be expected. However, it also added some interesting issues when dealing with change.


Why Accreditation?

From this research, the chief determined that accreditation could be a help in working on some of the issues that were present. The chief also knew that time would need to be spent working with inside and outside interest groups to determine the best time to introduce accreditation. No clear indication existed of when that time would come, but by moving in that direction, the opportunity would arise.

Public safety is the foundation of a prosperous community. Sylvania Township is this type of community, and the police department’s services were good overall. Like many police employees, Sylvania personnel had been innovative but unorganized, and many of their innovations did not become a permanent part of the organization. At one point, the department even had a rollerblading patrol; this special unit did not do much after the first year. In fact, this drop in activity is common among innovative units in many departments.1 The need to formalize processes is one of the main reasons for seeking accreditation.

Risk management is also a concern. Though there were not many lawsuits against the department, the potential was there. The lack of written policies and documentation was a concern documented not only by the studies but also by others in the community. The police chief has the responsibility to initiate the adoption of risk management practices in the department.2

The department is committed to delivering the highest quality service to residents. This needs to be accomplished not just by saying it but also by doing. The personnel were delivering great service, and, to ensure that it continues being the best, the foundation must be firmly established and reviewed regularly for enhancement, as needed. The department’s desire is to maintain high-quality service levels 24 hours a day.

Finally, the department must demonstrate fiscal responsibility to the residents by providing the best service with the funds available. As indicated, financial support came from three levies for the funding of the department. These levies have to be renewed regularly. The public expects to get the best service for these levies. The elected officials also had a strong desire to maintain fiscal responsibility, which is one of the reasons they had been elected.

Considering these purposes, accreditation would demonstrate to all that the department’s goals were being met. Knowing the process would be slow, the department was ready for the rigors of this process. After receiving initial permission from the elected officials to obtain CALEA accreditation, the department began the process.


Pre-accreditation Process

Review Current Structure: This involves looking at what is in place and determining whether changes in the structure are necessary. Sylvania’s structure was typical of most departments’ structure. It was determined that little was needed except for some minor adjustments. In fact, the adjustments were made to the organization’s structure with the existing staffing level, not needing to fill an open position later.

Review Written Policies: “The importance of keeping police department policies and procedures current to standards required by state and federal law is a common theme. . . . It is also clear . . . that maintenance of department policies and procedures is one of the best ways to prevent future litigation.”3 All policies were reviewed and updated with the concept of accreditation as the model.

Review Risk Management: Policies that affect residents are a major concern of risk managers. Some of the most common policies that are of concern include use of force, vehicular pursuits, searches and frisks, property seizures, and arrests.4 Good risk management can also increase the safety of both the police and the public; increase the quality of police services to the public; and improve the financial management of costs associated with liability claims.5 The department’s review included those policies that fit this category.

Review Accountability Measures: The focus began with internal accountability as it related to service to the public, focusing on those aspects where accountability needed to be increased. An example of this is the use of force. There is a need to have a policy in place and to review each instance for compliance with this policy.

Review Current Management: This included structure and function, as well as accountability, and included command staff and auxiliary units, such as investigation. In the patrol division, management review included reviewing available resources and making sure sufficient staffing existed at appropriate times.

Review Policies from Other Accredited Agencies: Networking with accredited agencies is a great way to get on the right track with this process. Each accredited agency will have its own way of doing things, and, although it would be unwise to copy these policies word for word, they can provide a framework for developing policies.

Obtain Support: This included internal and external support. Over a year before this process began, elected officials were asked if they would endorse the concept of pursuing accreditation. They offered their support, and the following year a budget funded the process. Internally, department members discussed accreditation—how to accomplish it and what the benefits would be to all staff. Obtaining this support early helps get buy-in when the time comes to move in this direction.

During this time, a process was established for writing or rewriting and reviewing all policies, and the department proceeded slowly to overcome the type of resistance to change that is common in organizations.


Accreditation

After the pre-accreditation process, the department determined to pursue the CALEA accreditation.

Obtain CALEA Manual for Review: This allows time to review policies and proofs needed for accreditation. In Sylvania’s case, personnel reviewed a past CALEA manual to obtain some idea of the process and began putting the written documentation in place. Using CALEA documents as a structure, the department started work on new and improved policies immediately.

Review of Literature on Accreditation: Many publications have information on this process, and most of these are found on the CALEA Web site. Reviewing articles in other publications and discussing accreditation from a similar department provide insights to the process.6 These steps provide a good blueprint to follow for accreditation. Even though every department is unique, knowing how others have conducted their process can help a department design its process.

CALEA is not a panacea for all the ills of a department. It is one step that any agency can take to ensure compliance with the highest standard of the law enforcement profession.

Attend a CALEA Conference: The police chief needs to attend a CALEA conference first to become familiar with the process. By attending, the chief is able to determine if the department is ready for undertaking the process as well as how to obtain accreditation in a timely fashion. Attending the conference also gives the chief an idea of what to expect when formally applying for accreditation. After attending a conference, the chief will know how the process works, the personnel who should be involved, and the chief’s role. It is important to know the role and expectations of the chief executive in the accreditation process before formulating the department’s process for accreditation. One of the most important sessions at this conference is for beginning accreditation managers.

Appoint an Accreditation Manager: While accreditation is a shared responsibility and will involve many members of the department, it is important to appoint an accreditation manager as the focal point. However, do not expect the accreditation manager to do all the work in a vacuum. There should be a team of members who helps the manager get this done. The accreditation team members will all have other functions in the department, so they are not spending all of their time on accreditation. Having a team also allows the accreditation manager to maintain other duties in the department.

Application to CALEA for Accreditation: In Sylvania's case, applying for accreditation occurred soon after the chief attended the first conference. When CALEA accepts the application, a program manager is assigned to guide the department through the process. Filing the application does not indicate the department is ready for accreditation, but rather that the department seeks to begin the process.

Set a Timeline: CALEA suggests that most agencies set a three-year timeline for this process. It is best to determine the timeline, establish the benchmarks, and keep a written record of progress so the process stays on schedule. There needs to be some flexibility built into the timeline so that if any issues come up, adjustments can be made without affecting the overall timeline.

Sylvania’s timeline is 18 months. Before the department undertook the process, the major policies were already completed and now the work is compiling the proofs and information to support these written documents. Other departments may wish to rewrite their policies within the CALEA process time limit.

Join a PAC: This is important for the success of the process. In Ohio, the Police Accreditation Coalition (PAC) is the State of Ohio Accreditation Resources (SOAR) and the Sylvania accreditation manager attends the meetings. The PACs are a great source for information beyond CALEA. These PACs are local or state consortiums of accredited agencies that will help agencies achieve accreditation. They can be a great resource for obtaining written materials as well as assistance in such things as a mock assessment.

Plan for Mock Assessments: These are crucial prior to the final site assessment by CALEA assessors. Determine the benchmark date for the mock assessment and allow enough time so that if the first mock assessment does not go well the issues are fixed prior to another mock assessment without interfering with the overall timeline.


What Sylvania Hopes to Accomplish

Achieving accreditation should result in the following for Sylvania Township:

Reduced Liability: Accreditation is a proven method of reducing liability.7

Management and Department Stability: By having a set of written directives, conducting a scheduled review of them, and keeping directives current, the department will be able to maintain the highest level of service to the community. In addition, staff will know what to expect, as everything is in writing. This can help minimize the effect of changing management.

Current and Complete Set of Written Directives: This is imperative for any department, but through accreditation, CALEA will review and certify that the directives comply with the highest standards for police. This creates the foundation that a department needs to inform staff about expectations and to communicate to the public the quality of service to expect.

Tool for the Future: Accreditation provides continuity for the future. In addition, it ensures that departments keep pace with changes in the police field. Change will occur and should occur. By having this tool, departments stay ahead of issues, or at least are prepared when issues do arise.

Reduced Costs: Liability and risk management costs should both decrease. A goal is to document any reduction in costs to assess if accreditation offset the cost of the process.


The Future


As a department that is working toward excellence, accreditation provides the kind of assistance required to achieve this goal. It may not be easy and will take some time to accomplish, but doing nothing is not an alternative. CALEA is not a panacea for all the ills of a department. It is one step that any agency can take to ensure compliance with the highest standard of the law enforcement profession. For Sylvania Township, it will also have the added benefit of ensuring that management is functioning as it should and that staff recognizes how management functions within the organization. ■


Notes:

1William R. King, “Measuring Police Innovation: Issues and Measurement,” Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies and Management 23, no. 3 (2000): 304.
2Carol A. Archbold., “Managing the Bottom Line: Risk Management in Policing,” Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies and Management 28, no. 1 (2005): 38.
3Ibid., 40.
4Ibid., 41.
5Peter C. Young, Risk Management: A Comprehensive Approach (Washington, D.C.: International City/County Management Association, 2000): 1.
6William L. Wilcox, “Focus on Accreditation: A Small Police Department’s Success,” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin (February 2004): 19. http://www.fbi.gov/publications/leb/2004/feb2004/feb04leb.htm#page_19 (accessed January 28, 2010).
7Archbold, “Managing the Bottom Line.”

Please cite as:

Robert W. Metzger, "One Department’s Experience: CALEA Accreditation," The Police Chief 77 (March 2010): 20–27,
http://policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display&article_id=2035&issue_id=32010 (insert access date).


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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVII, no. 3, March 2010. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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