Law enforcement leaders frequently encounter important questions around police accreditation – do we have the time and, importantly, bandwidth to tackle accreditation? Can our agency afford the accreditation process? What are the differences between state and national accreditation?

A new era of police reform has ushered in the return of federal consent decrees and hundreds of legislative and regulatory changes at the state level. Transparency and public accountability drive the narrative around policing and have a substantial influence on the public’s perception of police.  These factors contribute to a new emphasis and add to the urgency for law enforcement leaders to weigh the benefits of accreditation.

What is accreditation?

Law enforcement accreditation is a self-initiated, voluntary process based on standards reflective of best practices in law enforcement. Accreditation standards cover roles and responsibilities; relationships with other agencies; organization, management, administration; law enforcement operations, operational support, traffic law enforcement; detainee and court-related services; and auxiliary and technical services.

What is Accreditation?

Much like accreditation for hospitals and educational institutions, law enforcement accreditation is a self-initiated, voluntary process. It is based on standards reflective of best practices in law enforcement. Accreditation standards cover a department’s roles and responsibilities; relationships with other agencies; organization, management, administration; law enforcement operations, operational support, traffic law enforcement; detainee and court-related services; and auxiliary and technical services.

What is national accreditation?

At the national level, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) administers accreditation for law enforcement agencies. In 1979, a group of the nation’s major law enforcement executive associations created CALEA as the national accreditation authority. CALEA improves public safety services delivery and maintains 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 of law enforcement agencies. They are widely considered “Marks of Professional Excellence,” and case studies have demonstrated benefits for large and small public safety agencies. CALEA accreditation is also available for tribal law enforcement agencies and corrections departments.

Agencies undergoing CALEA accreditation experience a five-phase process:

  1. Enrollment: Agencies enroll in one or more of the CALEA Accreditation programs.
  2. 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.”
  3. Assessment: The assessment phase ensures standard compliance.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 – a ‘stamp of approval.’
  • Decreased exposure to liability risk and costs
  • Enhanced knowledge of written directives.
  • Broadens officer perspective and experience with nationally accepted best practices.
  • Accreditation requires the agency to ensure provided proofs follow standards and written directives.
  • Supports public confidence in policing

The last item is essential. Efforts at increasing the transparency of operations and policy through accreditation can make a meaningful impact in improving the public’s trust in policing. Maintaining public support is crucial in this contemporary era of rapid movement on reform measures and significant policy changes.

In state-level accreditation programs such as the one offered by MLEAC, achieving accreditation includes a thorough self-analysis to determine how existing operations can be adapted to meet state standards. When procedures and policies are in place, a team of trained state assessors verifies that applicable standards have been successfully implemented.

National vs. State Accreditation — Key Differences

A significant difference between state and national accreditation programs is in the “lift” necessary at the agency level or the work involved in achieving accreditation. Typically, state programs have fewer defined criteria than national accreditation programs.

Key differences in state and national accreditation

For example, as of 2022, MLEAC has 108 standards, while the Texas Police Chiefs Association Foundation Law Enforcement Agency Best Practices Recognition Program (TPCAF Recognition Program) has 170. In comparison, CALEA has approximately 458 standards. Though the standards vary from state to state, it is generally true that accreditation at the national level is a more rigorous and time-intensive process.

In many cases, state accreditation programs for police have a lot of similar themes and overlap with CALEA’s national accreditation requirements — and are written to address issues specific to their state’s regulations. According to the TPCAF Recognition Program site, the program is similar to the national accreditation program but easier to administer and designed with Texas law enforcement agencies in mind. Similarly, Neal A. Rossow, Director of Professional Development/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 ten 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 engage in the process without getting overwhelmed by cost or the number of standards present at the national level.

CALEA is an outstanding national accreditation program, as are many state accreditation programs. Whichever accreditation program an agency undertakes, they demonstrate to themselves and the community they serve their commitment to transparency and 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.


In our previous article we examined the brisk pace in the passage of new state-level reform legislation and how it’s impacting law enforcement agencies. Often driven by high-profile law enforcement incidents, these new mandates frequently result in agencies updating their training, certification, and data-gathering capabilities. At the intersection of these new laws and the agencies they impact are POST organizations.

What are state POST organizations?

Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) organizations are tasked with implementing elements of new legislation, especially as it relates to tracking data involving training and certification of officers based on these new requirements. POSTs operate at the state level, administering training and officer certification. These organizations are not exclusively known as POSTs either. For example, in Tennessee the equivalent certifying body is known at the Tennessee Law Enforcement Academy; in Illinois there is the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board; and in Texas the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement manages training and certification. Despite the varying nomenclature, the scope of these organizations is roughly the same – to administer and certify the training of officers, provide guidance on best practices to agencies, and, increasingly, to collect large sets of data on police interactions.

Reform State POSTIn the last 12 months alone, the National Conference of State Legislatures has tracked approximately 3,000 bills at introduced or passed at the state level related to police reform. Many of these bills recognize a shortfall in centralized data reporting encompassing everything from training certifications to officer interactions in the field. As a result, demands on state POSTs and their data collection capabilities are expanding, requiring them to modernize the ways in which they deal with this data.

On the national level, The International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) is an organization of POST directors and leaders in law enforcement training from all 50 states. IADLEST does not govern training standards, however, they do certify courses through the National Certification Program which ensures coursework is accepted by most state POSTs and is transferrable if an officer joins a new agency. They also maintain several resource databases like the National Law Enforcement Academy Recourse Network, a center for training materials, best practices, and discussion among public safety trainers and officials.

New State Legislation and POSTs

Many of these new laws seek to standardize certification and training at the state, rather than local level. How POST organizations meet the challenge of new statewide requirements is going to be a key factor in determining the overall success of new law enforcement legislation. Here is a look at several prominent examples of the role state POSTs will play in enacting new laws.

  • Beginning in 2022, Colorado POST will, among other things, create and maintain a statewide database of information related to an officer’s “untruthfulness, repeated failure to follow POST training requirements, decertification, or termination for cause”. This new mandate is part of broad news efforts contained in SB20-217, signed into law by Governor Polis. (In 2019 Benchmark Analytics was selected as the provider of record for Colorado POST’s training and certification management system and is responsible for the implementation of a new Learning Management System designed to track the training, employment status, and certification of approximately 40,000 personnel statewide.)
  • This year, Utah’s state legislature passed a pair of POST-related bills that became law in May. SB106 mandates that the POST council create statewide minimum use of force policies while SB13 calls on agencies to provide information about certain internal investigations of officers to the state POST. Both bills were constructed to more thoroughly establish statewide standards administered by POST.
  • In New Hampshire, Governor Sununu signed an Executive Order on Law Enforcement, Accountability, Community, and Transparency. As a result of this executive order, Benchmark Analytics was selected by the New Hampshire POST to head up a statewide capture of employment, training, and certification data across the state’s more than 200 law enforcement agencies.
  • As a part of a larger law enforcement bill signed by Governor Baker, Massachusetts established, for the first time, a statewide POST commission. The nine-member commission will be charged with creating certification standards for officers as well as investigating misconduct allegations.
  • SB2 was recently approved by the California state senate, establishing the state’s POST commission as the authority for certifying peace officers. The bill also mandates the creation of a nine-member Peace Officer Standards Accountability Advisory. This board will be responsible for reviewing findings of POST investigations and making recommendations on de-certification. Furthermore, the POST Commission voted in February to add a new four-hour use of force training requirement for officers.
  • New training mandates in Missouri, passed into law by the state legislature, were approved by the state’s POST commission. The mandates require that officers complete two separate one-hour classes covering de-escalation techniques and coursework on recognizing implicit bias. These two new hours of instruction are included in the 24 hours of annual training officers must complete on an annual basis. Additionally, the POST commission has established a committee to study pre-employment background checks and to make recommendations on their statewide implementation.
  • Signed into law in July of 2020, the Minnesota Police Accountability Act contained several provisions aimed at providing the state POST with the financial resources and leadership needed to enact new legislation. The bill called for the expansion of the POST board to 17 members to be appointed by the governor. The legislation also provided nearly $4 million in funding to POST for the expansion of its data collection efforts, training, and associated operational costs.

With these new resources, the Minnesota POST undertook a comprehensive audit led by IADLEST. The purpose of this audit was to modernize POST business processes, provide data for strategic planning, and to clarify procedures surround training and certification. As a part of these efforts, Minnesota POST partnered with

More data collection, greater uniformity in training, and the monitoring of officer certification status have been, and likely will continue to be, key provisions of law enforcement bills being passed throughout the country. Much of this legislation requires state POSTs to enhance their abilities to not only track both training and officer certification but create new systems and procedures for capturing and reporting data. As more of these bills become laws, POST organizations will likely continue to see their roles grow even further in enacting these changes.




In recent weeks, conversations on law enforcement accreditation have increased among municipal and state law enforcement leaders. For example, Massachusetts is promoting a bill that develops a Police Officer Standards and Accreditation Committee that will create unified requirements on officer certification and misconduct. In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine is encouraging more agencies to pursue law enforcement accreditation, and in Virginia, the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police outlined positive reforms for police departments which includes Virginia agencies to achieve either state or national accreditation.

But what is law enforcement accreditation?
In our post, Accreditation 101: The Benefits of State and National Police Accreditation, we shared that law enforcement accreditation is a self-initiated, voluntary process and is based on standards which are reflective of best practices in law enforcement.

Agencies can become nationally accredited through The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc (CALEA), or receive accreditation through a state program. Whether an agency becomes accredited through CALEA or a state program, the accreditation process requires an in-depth review of an agency’s organization, management, operations and administration – often known as standards.

What are accreditation standards?
Accreditation standards increase an agency’s credibility and provide performance norms against agency processes and procedures.  These 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.

What is an early intervention system’s role in law enforcement accreditation?
CALEA Standards Chapter 35 emphasizes that a law enforcement agency must be able to depend on the satisfactory work performance of each employee, and this includes having a standardized performance evaluation as well as a personnel early intervention system.

EIS Research

CALEA Standard 31.1.9 specifically states “If an agency has an EIS, a written directive establishes a Personnel Early Intervention System to identify agency employees who may require agency intervention efforts. The directive shall include: a. definitions of employee behaviors or actions to be included for review; b. threshold or trigger levels to initiate a review of employee actions or behavior; c. a review of identified employees, based on current patterns of collected material, that is approved by the agency CEO or designee; d. agency reporting requirements of conduct and behavior; e. documented annual evaluation of the system; f. the responsibility of supervisors; g. remedial action; and h. some type of employee assistance such as a formal employee assistance Program, peer counseling, etc.”

Additionally, as part of CALEA’s standard on EIS, the National Police Foundation shares that “the failure of the agency to develop a comprehensive system can lead to the erosion of public confidence in the agency’s ability to investigate itself, while putting the public and agency employees in greater risk of danger.”

State accreditation programs design standards that capture both CALEA-recognized and state-specific best practices for law enforcement agencies. For example, The Arizona Law Enforcement Accreditation Program (ALEAP) Chapter 16 contains standards on performance evaluations and includes standards on annual performance evaluations, as well as probationary employees. The Illinois Law Enforcement Accreditation Program (ILEAP) has two accreditation tiers for departments, but both contain standards regarding officer performance. Therefore, whether a department is seeking national or state accreditation, it is important for agencies to have an EIS in place that provides a framework for establishing review processes, as well as delivers accurate officer data, in order to meet performance accreditation standards.

What early intervention system (EIS) is required to meet accreditation standards?
Not all EIS are the same.

Early Intervention SystemFor example, threshold-based EIS systems rely on basic activity thresholds, so that when an officer reaches an arbitrary threshold, the officer is flagged for an investigation. The problem with these types of systems is that they aren’t reliable for identifying a real problem that requires intervention; in fact, based on academic research, threshold-based systems result in:

As a result, a threshold system does not necessarily help agencies accurately review officer performance, in order to meet accreditation standards, and provide them the intervention and training plans when needed. Instead, a data-driven early intervention system, like First Sign® Early Intervention, analyzes cumulative officer data on an ongoing basis and allows supervisors to review and compare data for individual officers, units and even watches. This allows supervisors to make recommendations for exceptional performance deserving of recognition or assign intervention actions for concerning behavior.

Research shows there are over 25 indicators that impact an officer’s performance, and fall in four conceptual groups: Event, Organization, Officer, and External/Wellness. As an example, Event information includes: missed court appearances; officer-involved injuries; commendations received; officer training; and community engagement work. Agencies using First Sign work with Benchmark’s data science team to conduct a detailed data exercise which allows each agency to identify the most valuable, accessible, and relevant indicators for their department. Each indicator is then broken into subdomains and analyzed.

The result is having a data-driven EIS in place that serves as a predictive model that identifies patterns of problematic behavior and patterns of exceptional conduct — thus, providing the information agencies need to successfully meet officer performance accreditation standards.

What are next steps?
To learn more about the importance of a data-driven early intervention system, watch our presentation from the 2019 International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Conference on “What Every Police Chief Needs to Understand about Early Intervention/Warning Systems.”

To learn more about First Sign from a Benchmark representative, fill out the form here.

Many professions and industries (e.g., schools, hospitals, manufacturers, software providers) use accreditation to define and distribute policy standards based on the experience and authority of the accrediting body. Beyond the pragmatic benefit of access to best practices, accreditation signals that a company or organization wants to align itself to proven, and quality assured, modes of operating. Some believe it can serve, “as a credible sign of departmental competence, and building a reputation for competence can benefit the department…and the city as a whole.”

The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) has championed changes in policing that improve agency performance and professionalism in the eyes of the community while promoting the well-being and safety of officers since its founding in 1979.  CALEA offers accreditation to law enforcement agencies dependent on their ability to align with its policies and operational standards.

However, CALEA is not the only accreditation game in town. State programs emerged to make accreditation accessible to agencies with leaner budgets. Programs like the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation, Inc., and  the one offered by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs emerged that now account for the accreditation of additional agencies. (CALEA’s fees are based on the number of full-time personnel employed by your agency – this number includes sworn and non-sworn.)

The Illinois Law Enforcement Accreditation Program (ILEAP) offered by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police (ILACP) is one of the twenty-two state accreditation programs (as of 2017) with offerings similar to those provided by CALEA. Each will offer its own take on best practices, which could be important to your agency if you feel differences in region or headcount will impact your ability to benefit from the guidelines.

A Worthwhile Commitment

Any organization that’s gone through the process will tell you that accreditation is a commitment. It’s not a one-and-done deal; your agency will need to periodically obtain reaccreditation, which can be a heavier lift than your agency’s first go-around because you have to demonstrate proof of compliance for more years. Digitization has made this easier in recent years, allowing your accreditation managers to move away from shipping paper files via FedEx to web documents hosted and managed through the cloud.

row-togetherAccreditation is also an investment. Your agency is literally buying into the insight and time-tested authority of your accreditor, whether it’s CALEA or a state-specific program. Spending hard-won budget, assigning extra duties to over-worked personnel, and tackling the necessary process changes to become compliant. As one researcher put it, “Accreditation is a voluntary process that demands organizational resources without a guaranteed outcome.”

This uncertainty can lead to resistance or outright dismissal of accreditation. Which means pursuing it can require a lot of change management savvy. It’s hard to introduce something new if it makes your audience  feel like they’re doing things wrong, or that what they have to offer isn’t enough. But no one loses when they become accredited. It provides peace of mind for your leadership team and the community.

The Benefits of Accreditation

Instead of wondering why your officers operate the way they do, you can ease community concern by discussing the third-party standards you manage against.  Because of the number of stakeholders involved in this type of transition, it’s advantageous to know the benefits of accreditation before attempting to sell it internally.

According to CALEA, these are the benefits to gaining accreditation:

  • Increased community advocacy
  • Staunch support from government officials
  • Stronger defense against civil lawsuits
  • Reduced risk and liability exposure
  • Greater accountability within the agency

Increased Community Advocacy

Pursuing accreditation tells  your community that professionalism and high performance are important to your agency. You demonstrate that you’re willing to invest in your department (time, resources, and so on) to ensure the service delivered by your officers is par none. Beyond any implicit direction, some of CALEA’s policies explicitly direct agencies to develop community groups.

Staunch Support from Government Officials

Identifying and aligning an organization around effective policies is challenging (or else accreditation wouldn’t exist) due to the many unavoidable interpersonal dynamics at play. Having a third-party available to spot-check your department on best practices attracts the support of government officials because it streamlines an added layer of accountability. Instead of relying on intuition or inherited wisdom, you can manage your department and mitigate risk using validated policies.

Stronger Defense Against Civil Lawsuits

A lot of civil litigation can be summed up in a phrase on the tip of many a parent’s tongue: you should’ve known better. In trying to determine whether or not an agency can be found liable, it’s not uncommon for attorneys to look at existing policy. If your agency’s policies resulted from ad-hoc gut decisions over the years, it’s harder for you to demonstrate you or your officer did the right thing given the circumstances. However, your defense is stronger if you can show you complied with guidelines issues by an accreditor like CALEA. It shows your agency has made an investment in professionalism and performance to ensure against the likelihood of receiving claims of negligence.

Reduced Risk and Liability Exposure

Accreditation policies like CALEA’s are written to reduce the likelihood of a negative outcome. By structuring your agency’s policies around CALEA’s, you are leveraging its collective experience which ensures you minimize blind spots and maintain awareness of best practices.

Greater Accountability within the Agency

It’s easier to hold someone accountable when you have an objective standard to point to. Instead of relying on hierarchy to move personnel in your desired direction, accreditation provides a blueprint that gets you there without slowing down to defend every decision. You’ll likely still receive pushback from your officers, but a goal of accreditation is a lot easier to accept than a one-off policy change for a single department. Accreditation is like any system; it moves the decision-making impetus away from you. That’s why it’s critical to have a good system in place.

What are Your Next Steps?

benchmark-compliance-shield-calea-accreditationTimelines for accreditation vary by department. It depends on the accreditation you’re seeking, the number of assessors available at any given time, and the number of full-time employees you have on staff. The aforementioned ILEAP program takes between 16-18 months from application to awarding of accreditation. The right technology can expedite the process (the less paper files you have to wrangle, the better), but it still takes time to review your existing policies, identify any gaps, determine what proofs you’ll use to demonstrate compliance (e.g., video of officers using their lights when responding to a call), and conduct both a mock assessment and the real one.

After you’ve achieved accreditation, how do you ensure compliance? Having technology in place to track your people data, including mandatory training, procedures, and reporting, can make it easier to maintain your status. Subsequent reaccreditations tend to take longer because you have more to report – usually multiple years of proofs required to show your agency is actually using the provided policies.