We often hear that there is not a more honorable profession than that of law enforcement officer. Clearly, those serving in this capacity have taken an oath of office to uphold their country’s constitutional provisions, ensure the rights of individuals are maintained, and promote the confidence of the public through the delivery of professional police services. These are very daunting responsibilities and require constant attention from highly trained individuals with a passion for safety, security, and justice for all.
In fact, the challenges we face as leaders of law enforcement organizations require us to balance varying pressures and perspectives, while maintaining the support of our personnel and the trust of the community.
However, like other professions, law enforcement has evolved and been impacted by a number of dynamic factors. These factors include advancements in technology; access to advanced education in the areas of investigations, management, and leadership; changes in equipment; judicial rulings; the priorities of those served; and, too often, misguided narratives. To complicate the landscape further, what the future holds is only marginally predictable despite the profound impact it will have on how police officers will be required to serve and under what level of scrutiny.
The confluence of the police oath and the factors influencing its evolution require accountability beyond that of most professions and contributes significantly to the importance and honor of the work. In fact, the challenges we face as leaders of law enforcement organizations require us to balance varying pressures and perspectives, while maintaining the support of our personnel and the trust of the community. There is often very little margin for error, and, during difficult times, seemingly insignificant issues can become the substance of intense criticism.
Given these challenges, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), in conjunction with the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), launched an initiative that would develop and propagate common standards within the law enforcement profession. This effort resulted in the concept of accreditation for public safety agencies and has been a mainstay for professionalism in the industry now for four decades. Although some may see it as a polarizing strategy, by all accounts it has worked to establish best practices and has provided a benchmark for anchoring the importance of the IACP Law Enforcement Policy Center’s work. The concept of accreditation has formalized an external review of practices and procedures, by objective third-party professionals, with a collective focus on continuous improvement for agencies that elect to participate.
Accreditation has served to open agencies to inspection and demonstrate that they operate as a part of the community and are responsible to it. The model has helped to create clear expectations for public safety personnel and has supported selection, training, personnel management, and operational platforms that are reflective of the collective experience of many of the best public safety agencies in the world. The concept requires forward thinking by leaders and practitioners, and it challenges agencies to use data to make sound business decisions with specifically intended outcomes.
Even during my tenure as a CALEA commissioner and later the organization’s chairperson, I continually used the process to discover and to mitigate risks that my agency was facing, and, in my experience, I found the process to focus on improvement, not punishment. Commissioners of CALEA use research to support the development of standards and review agencies with a sensitivity for the complexities of public safety and an unrelenting sense of professional integrity and accountability.
Because of the difficulty in maintaining the public’s confidence, I understand the concerns that accompany the identification of shortcomings; however, those issues are just waiting to be exposed. Accreditation allows such concerns to be resolved under manageable circumstances—and before they have resulted in bad outcomes. As the leader of an internationally accredited and state-certified agency, I retain control over all policies and have never found the credentialing process to restrict my decision-making. In fact, the portability of standards makes them applicable in any law enforcement environment, in any country where the “rule of law” and democratic principles of policing exist. Participation in accreditation helps to unify law enforcement as a true profession, thereby contributing to the maintenance of an international police narrative that positively reflects the true values of those committed to professional excellence.
Although I often wonder how our generation of leaders will shape the future of policing, I am keenly aware that thought leaders from the past have profoundly impacted my perspective on the best strategies for ensuring the efficient and effective delivery of public safety services. Standards remain important and allow agencies to reach their full potential, and I encourage your engagement in accreditation. Clearly, we have a complex responsibility, and I believe the process of accreditation helps us to be accountable to one another for the advancement of all. ♦