Determining whether to get your agency accredited is probably one of the most important decisions you can make as a law enforcement leader. Yet, when police accreditation is mentioned, it can spark thoughts like – Does your agency have the time or personnel bandwidth to go through the process? Can you afford accreditation? What is the difference between national and state accreditation?
What is accreditation?
Law enforcement accreditation is a self-initiated, voluntary process and is based on standards which are reflective of best practices in law enforcement. Accreditation standards cover roles and responsibilities; relationships with other agencies; organization, management and administration; law enforcement operations, operational support and traffic law enforcement; detainee and court-related services; and auxiliary and technical services.
Much like accreditation for hospitals, colleges and schools, police accreditation involves an outside autonomous agency or group that establishes the professional best-practice standards for departments, as well as ensures the agency is following those standards by conducting a comprehensive onsite assessment.
What is national accreditation?
The national accreditation program for law enforcement agencies is the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA). CALEA was created in 1979 with the purpose of improving the delivery of public safety services by maintaining a body of professional standards that support the administration of accreditation programs. The primary benefits of CALEA accreditation are: Controlled liability insurance cost; administrative improvements; greater accountability from supervisors; increased governmental and community support; means for developing or improving upon an agency’s relationship with the community; and facilitation of an agency’s pursuit of professional excellence.
CALEA accreditation is open to all types and sizes of law enforcement agencies, and its program seals are the “Marks of Professional Excellence” for today’s public safety agencies. The program seal reflects the gold standard benchmark associated with CALEA.
Agencies undergoing CALEA accreditation experience a five-phase process:
- Enrollment: Agencies enroll in one or more of the CALEA Accreditation programs.
- Self-Assessment: Initial self-assessment timeframes can take 24 – 26 months, and according to CALEA, “self-assessment refers to the internal, systematic analysis of an agency’s operations, management and practices to determine if it complies with applicable standards.”
- Assessment: The assessment phase ensures standard compliance.
- Commission Review Decision: The final credentialing decision is made by the Board of CALEA Commissioners. The Board facilitates a review hearing to discuss the assessment.
- Maintaining Accreditation: CALEA accreditation is an on-going quality performance review of an agency. Therefore, reaccreditation is contingent upon the agency’s ability to meet CALEA standards and demonstrate continued compliance.
What is state accreditation?
State accreditation programs are designed to help law enforcement agencies establish and maintain standards that represent current professional law enforcement practices; to increase the effectiveness and efficiency in the delivery of law enforcement services; and to establish standards that address and reduce liability for the agency and its members.
According to the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police Law Enforcement Accreditation Program (MLEAC), Michigan agencies seek accreditation for multiple reasons:
- Accredited status represents a significant professional achievement.
- Accreditation acknowledges the implementation of soundly written directives that are conceptually and operational effective.
- Accreditation requires the agency to ensure the standards and written directives are being followed by provided proofs.
In state accreditation programs such as the one offered by MLEAC, the general process for becoming accredited includes a thorough self-analysis to determine how existing operations can be adopted to meet state standards. When procedures and policies are in place, a team of trained state assessors verify that applicable standards have been successfully implemented.
National vs. State — Key Differences
A key difference between state and national accreditation programs is workload, or what is actually involved in achieving accreditation. State programs often have less standards to meet than national accreditation programs.
For example, MLEAC has 107 standards and the Texas Police Chiefs Association Foundation Law Enforcement Agency Best Practices Recognition Program (TPCAF Recognition Program) has 166. In comparison, CALEA has approximately 480 standards.
In many cases, state accreditation programs for police believe their standards cover the same important points as CALEA — and are written to be specific to agencies within that state. According to the TPCAF Recognition Program site, the program is similar in nature to the national accreditation program, but easier to administer and is designed specifically for Texas Law Enforcement. Similarly, Neal A. Rossow, Accreditation Program Director at MACP stated, “We designed an accreditation process that any department could afford and could achieve. Our first accredited agency was the Rockford Department of Public Safety with 10 officers.”
Because of these two key differences, many agencies use state accreditation as a stepping stone to CALEA accreditation; simply, it provides the ability to experience the process without getting overwhelmed by cost or the number of standards.
CALEA is an outstanding national accreditation program, as are many state accreditation programs. So whichever accreditation program an agency selects and receives, they are demonstrating to themselves and the community they serve, their commitment to excellence in law enforcement.
To learn more about police accreditation, take a look at our blog post: Agency Accreditation: What to Consider Before Pursuing it for your Department.