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.

What is Accreditation?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:

  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.
  • 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.

Key differences in state and national accreditation

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.


Sir Robert Peel, the so-called father of modern policing, was early to identify that public trust would be essential to his vision’s success. Both before and after Peel, political theorists have written piles of books and papers on the relationship between people with authority and the people willingly subject to it.

John Locke talked about this relationship using the concept “consent of the governed”, specifically, “no one can be…subjected to the political power of another without his own consent.” His was a revolutionary way of understanding how a free public actually helps to determine the reach and nature of those in authority. Ultimately, theorists and practitioners alike landed on legitimacy as the term of art.

Police legitimacy is the term used when describing whether or not an agency has the trust of its community. Legitimacy is a scalable concept that, depending on the person, can be used to refer to an individual officer or the entire policing profession.

Technology hasn’t been obviously useful in addressing the scenarios and outcomes that affect police legitimacy until recently.  By making it easier to be transparent, tools like body-worn cameras, enterprise-grade police force management software, and early intervention systems have added a new layer to police legitimacy.

Foundations of Police Legitimacy

foundations-of-police-technologyLegitimacy is maintained when the group deciding and enforcing the rules plays by them as well. They must be impartial and objective in upholding the law. If the rule-bound population detects special treatment or bias, especially the self-serving kind, its attitude changes from acceptance to resistance, resentment, and, occasionally, revolution. (Here’s looking at you, King G.)  Peel’s  nine principles of policing is a prescient work that demonstrates the fundamental link between successful policing and police legitimacy.

A Social Institution

Researchers approach police legitimacy as a “riverhead” of social psychology and institutional theory.

Social psychology helps researchers understand how the formation of a person’s perception or outlook might influence their behavior during an encounter with police.

social-institution-normative-empirical-legitimacyPaired with institutional theory, which defines legitimacy as “a generalized perception or assumption that the actions of an entity are desirable, proper, or appropriate within some socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs, and definitions.”

When legitimacy exists, an institution gets the benefit of the doubt. Remove legitimacy, and that support begins to erode. For police, legitimacy is the difference between compliance and non-compliance, respect and ridicule, support and criticism; the consequences are serious when an agency lacks the support of its community.

Normative and Empirical Legitimacy

Multiple types of legitimacy can exist at the same time. This fact complicates any understanding of police legitimacy, as an agency could be “normatively” legitimate without “empirical” legitimacy.

Researchers distinguish these two forms of legitimacy by their respective source; i.e., whether we’re considering an an agency through the eyes of the government or the public.

Normative legitimacy exists when an agency satisfies an objective criterion determined by an organization higher up the authority food chain.  If an agency lacks any obvious signs of corruption, then they satisfy one condition of normative legitimacy.

The presence of empirical legitimacy, however, depends on the perceptions of citizens.  As you might have guessed, perception is subjective, which means your community might view your agency as illegitimate even if you qualify by normative standards, i.e., a lack of obvious corruption.

Technologies to Improve Community Perception

Just as technology makes it easier for law enforcement to connect with communities, and by extension to better gauge and positively influence empirical legitimacy, it also helps leadership more easily access information they can use to support officers.

Body-Worn Cameras

police-officerThese devices serve a dual purpose: collecting evidence and increasing transparency between law enforcement agencies and their communities. By capturing video of arrests and other interactions, both leadership and civilians can literally see how officers conduct themselves. These devices are impartial by nature – a camera on its own can’t operate with bias towards officers or civilians. BWC’s help move a subjective experience into the realm of objective by opening a contested incident to the oversight of many, diverse reviews.

Early Warning and Intervention Systems

According to CALEA, “the failure of [an] agency to develop a comprehensive [EIS] system can lead to the erosion of public confidence in the agency’s ability to investigate itself, while putting the public and employees in greater risk of danger.”

EIS’s have existed since the 70s. These early solutions existed in agency-specific data silos, though the focus even then was on community perception and uses of force. Having an EIS in place lends itself to both normative and empirical legitimacy. Normative in that it signals your agency is actively monitoring itself, and empirical in that it publicly demonstrates consideration of the public’s experience with your officers.

Recently, advances in data science have allowed agencies to implement research-driven solutions that promote an evidence-based approach to how we configure technology to alert us to officers in need of support, as well as the intervention chosen to help that officer. Agencies can use advanced technologies like machine learning to prevent officers from having an adverse event that could diminish empirical legitimacy and ruin an officer’s career.

Evidence-based practice is not unique to policing. In fact, its proponents belong to a variety of professions, including medicine, management and public policy. For example,  in the late 90’s, medical educators began to advocate for “Best Evidence Medical Education.” The movement emerged to promote medical training developed  through “intellectual rigor” rather than ‘intuition and tradition.’ (Source)

Sound familiar?

Policing’s Recent Hypothesis

In 1998, American criminologist Lawrence Sherman proposed a new approach to advancing law enforcement that would draw inspiration from the sciences. He called it “evidence-based policing.” (Source)

Evidence-based policing is the use of the best available research on the outcomes of police work…it uses the best evidence to shape the best practice. – Lawrence Sherman

As Sherman saw it, evidence-based policing (EBP) could be explained with three T’s: Targeting, Testing, and Tracking. Targeting, as defined by Sherman, is “the systematic analysis of distribution and rank orderings of the frequency, seriousness, and patterns of persistence or desistance of harm known to police around all units of a certain category: offenders, victims, micro-place ‘hot spots,’ neighborhoods, and others.”  Essentially, the success of EBP hinges on data collection.

Data Science for Crime Reduction

Initially, EBP practitioners focused their efforts on crime reduction. Sherman believed information from systematic or scientific research, as well as ebp-gives-officers-directionrigorous crime analysis, should be regularly used and generated by the police to make both strategic and tactical decisions. In partnership with colleagues and agencies, Sherman sought to understand which law enforcement practices and tactics led to the best results. This understanding would allow police executives to better allocate resources, and minimize instances where police officers spin their wheels trying to reduce crime with strategies formed through the gut instinct of previous generations. Today, we’re seeing researchers advocate to push EBP further upstream, to include – and analyze – data produced by officers, from the day they enter the academy.

Closing the Loop with Training

“We know virtually nothing about the short- or long-term effects associated with police training of any type.” (Source).

Throughout life, usually early on, a person develops one of two mindsets about themselves: either fixed or growth.  An individual operating with a fixed mindset believes that who they are in terms of potential – intellectually, physically, emotionally – is a known quantity, set from birth, unchanging over time. Every failure or setback represents an innate boundary. Whereas an individual with a growth mindset sees themself as nothing but potential. Every failure or setback is an opportunity to learn. Feedback data isn’t a wall, it’s a staircase.

Evidence-based policing emerged from researchers who embraced a growth mindset about law enforcement. Police executives can use EBP to uncover and shape best practice in policing. And there’s no better to place to start than with your training. What do you need to align your training with EBP?

Commitment to Transparency

A fixed mindset thrives in the dark.  The first step to learning from less-than-ideal practices is acknowledging they exist. We train to avoid making mistakes when it counts. However, there’s a broader analysis to be done on training, specifically as it relates to performance in the field. If we track an officer’s training, but not their performance throughout their career, then what do we learn about the training they received? Very little, if anything at all.

Investment in Analytics

Which is why investing in analytics and data capture is essential to deriving the benefits of EBP in your training. Crime reduction was realized by longitudinally capturing and comparing the use and efficacy of common police interventions. It became possible to draw conclusions about which interventions had the greatest impact on crime given a certain set of variables. The same method can be applied to police training if the data exists to support it. Which is why the first step in this process is ensuring your agency has systems in place to both capture and manage data through analysis.

Willingness to Experiment

Data is great on its own, but simply having it won’t yield the insights we’ve seen applied so effectively in other areas of policing. Researchers enjoy working with police departments because they represent a wealth of data. As you consider investing in new training, or revising existing programs, it could be worth reaching out to research-oriented companies or organizations to help you set the framework to evaluate them holistically.

Training that Scales with You

Evidence-based policing is a scientific method for finding the best tool in your toolbox, and recognizing when that tool no longer meets the needs of the job. While people tend to stay the same (at least through a behavioral lens), the environment we inhabit, and the ways in which we inhabit it, seems to be changing with more speed and variability than previous generations. EBP is a means to work with that change instead of against it. By adopting an EBP-mindset you’re preparing your officers to succeed today, while sharing an evaluation model that ensures they succeed in the future.

The first step to evidence-based policing is implementing a system that can intelligently collect and analyze all the data your agency produces. The more information you have, the better your decisions will be, which creates a ripple effect of optimization that increases the likelihood your officers will have a long and safe career.

You already know your department produces a lot of data. As we shared in a previous post, researchers from the University of Chicago identified seven areas of data that provide law enforcement leaders with actionable insight:

  • Training and Certifications
  • An Officer’s On-Duty Activity
  • Use-of-Force Incidents
  • Internal Affairs Review and Case Management
  • Community Engagement
  • Performance Evaluations
  • Officer Profile – a LEO’s historic and holistic record

Even if you’re still evaluating systems to manage and track all of this data creation, it’s never too early to start thinking about how this data can help you elevate your agency’s performance.

Strategic Applications of Your People Data

1. Cultivate Future Leaders

police-data-helpTomorrow’s police executives patrol today’s streets. These future leaders look to you and your executive team to define what it means to be a police officer, and they will carry that interpretation with them into future management roles. This is why it’s critical to identify these natural leaders sooner rather than later. People data won’t explicitly pinpoint the officers in your agency who have the makings of a future chief, but a combination of intuition and data-backed insight can guide your focus to high-performing officers with the traits and track records that should be recognized and cultivated.

2. Identify Causes of Low Morale

Gauging employee morale is a common use-case for people data. There are certain morale indicators that are profession-agnostic, meaning it doesn’t matter if you’re an accountant or a police officer, chronic underperformance with a history of satisfactory or exemplary work needs to be examined for underlying issues. Low morale is particularly counter-productive when it affects officers who don’t feel supported by management and city officials. By surfacing trends in performance and attendance, people data can help you identify root causes and pre-empt a trend before it becomes a wide-spread issue.

3. Measure the Impact of Your Training Investments

Whether it’s the result of a mandate or simply best practice, continuous training is essential to the careers of your officers.  An officer who isn’t properly trained isn’t set up to succeed in any department. This is what makes training a two-fold objective: not only do you have to make sure it’s delivered in an effective way, but you also have to track whether it’s been integrated into an officer’s routine.

People data can show you where training is adopted and where it’s failing to take root.

4. Pinpoint Barriers to Your Cultural Expectations

As the public and media increase the scrutiny leveled at police departments, how you evaluate and manage your agency’s culture is more important than ever. Though the “bad apple” theory has long been debunked as insufficient, there’s still weight behind organizational culture.

officer-standing-people-dataWhether we notice it or not, our peers shape the way we perceive the world, and in a police department that can be problematic if that world-view doesn’t align with yours or the public’s expectations for your officers. Using people data, you can evaluate what types of behaviors perpetuate across your agency and determine whether those are in line with values you champion as an agency. If they don’t, the data should give you a head start on correcting these issues before the inertia makes it difficult to intervene.

5. Know When (and How) to Intervene with Off-track Officers

Much like historical crime data can be used to guide your policing strategy, people data can be used to inform how you coach officers with a track record of problematic behavior. Increasingly, early warning systems have been recognized as an effective tool to track officer misconduct and citizen complaints. While these systems represent a step in the right direction, they often fall short at solving the problem as they depend on threshold triggers, leading to a situation where excessive false positives make it difficult to meaningfully use the data.

Focus On Insights with Your Data Analysis

The maturation of people data and its underlying technologies makes a different system possible, one that uses the past to proactively shape the future. If it wasn’t before, it should now be clear that data analysis can be a slippery slope. Which is why it’s critical to put frameworks, and technology, in place that offsets our biases and emotions.

If you’re looking for a place to start, check out Benchmark Analytics’ free self-assessment.

People produce a lot of data. How much is a lot of data? Research company IDC, “estimates that by 2025, approximately 80 billion devices will be connected to the internet and the total amount of digital data generated worldwide will hit 180 zettabytes.”

To put that in context, an officer’s body-worn camera produces about 11.6 gigabytes of data every month. A single zettabyte contains a trillion gigabytes.

Folks in the tech space often refer to data as the “new oil.” This might be a nod to the great quantities of data all around us, unseen; or that all of the software and applications we use would be impossible without it. Another way to interpret the analogy is through data’s valuable byproducts (oil’s go into 6,000 items): instead of the rubber for basketballs, data yields insights we can use to make decisions.

With both internal and external factors driving change in police departments, using data to develop a holistic view of your officers will be crucial to your agency addressing its unique challenges.

What Types of Workforce Data Can Police Departments Capture?

There’s no shortage of technology in police departments but most of it is focused on policing and not the police as employees. Software like Computer Aided Dispatch and Records Management Systems make it easier to help the communities they serve. However, they don’t provide insight into your sworn and civilian personnel.

on-duty-officer-dataYou can’t have the benefits of people analytics without having people data to analyze. Through research conducted by the University of Chicago, seven performance areas have emerged that are both rich in data and critical to effective police force management. If you’re interested in using data to innovate your police department, here’s where to start.

Training and Certifications

Beginning with the academy, officers must continually demonstrate and hone their tactical skills. Training is essential to good policing, but it can be hard to understand holistically across an officer’s entire career. Implementing systems to track the training data generated by officers is a good first step to gathering people data.

An Officer’s On-Duty Activity

This area includes the daily on-duty activities that make up an officer’s career; everything from pedestrian and traffic stops to accolades and administrative notices. This type of people data is essential to police leadership. Without it, front-line supervisors could struggle to understand and evaluate officer activity across the department.

Use-of-Force Incidents

Many departments already track use-of-force incidents but do so in a way that makes analysis incredibly difficult, especially when it comes to understanding connections between your officers’ training, your leadership, and the outcomes your officers produce in the field.

Other important areas to begin tracking:

  • Internal Affairs Command Channel Review and Case Management
  • Community Engagement
  • Performance Evaluations
  • Officer Profile – a LEO’s historic and holistic record

How Can You Use People Data?

Essentially, people data, sometimes called workforce data, is any of the information you can capture about your employees. Certifications, absences, complaints, accolades, performance reviews, etc. Tracking these areas across all of your employees yields a mountain of information.

Unless you’re secretly a computer, that massive amount of data won’t yield much, especially if you’re trying to derive insights from years of workforce activity. This gap between data capture and data insight is bridged by analytics, which is the process of running raw people data through software designed to find signals in the noise. These signals are what we refer to as insights, patterns in the data that can be used to make informed predictions about future results.

For example, a company might use people data to measure overall employee sentiment or the internal net-promoter score (i.e., how many people would recommend working there versus not), where before they might have had an outdated spreadsheet and some water-cooler talk to inform its solution to high turnover. People analytics can be used to predict overall productivity or perhaps a surge in turnover; it can also be used to intervene ahead of negative consequences.

Executives view people data as a strategic advantage in an age where high expectations and high employee churn are rules rather than exceptions. Police leadership is facing similar stressors when it comes to recruiting, training, retaining, and developing their officers.

In our next post, we’ll further explore how police leadership can use people data. If you’re wondering whether your agency could benefit from a better understanding of people data, let us know and we’d be happy to discuss it with you.