by Commander Cheri Pickard-Akselsen
Johns Creek (GA) Police Department
“What was it like to start a police department from the ground up?” This is a question I have been asked hundreds of time since the startup of the Johns Creek, Georgia Police Department in April 2008. The simplest answer is “Amazing.” But, “Where do you begin?” when you have less than 100 days to start a law enforcement agency, is usually the second question.
Well, you start with the usual items: police officers and staff - check; cars – check; radios and guns – check; CALEA standards manual and contracts – check; computers - check. Wait, did you say CALEA contracts? Yes, I said CALEA contracts and manuals. This is usually where most people ask “Why would you tackle the CALEA process when you are just starting up?” For Chief Ed Densmore and his inaugural command staff, including myself, it was the ideal time to start accreditation!
Chief Densmore and most of the rest of us came from CALEA Accredited agencies and were familiar with the process and the benefits derived from accreditation. We knew this was the perfect management model upon which to base our new organization. All organizations must start with a great leader who has a vision; Chief Densmore had a vision for his agency, which is clearly reflected in our agency’s vision statement, “Setting the standard all others will choose to follow.”
During the chief’s first meetings with the inaugural staff, he talked of values, goals, training, his vision, and our agency’s future. Chief Densmore made it clear that in order to be successful, we must first have a solid foundation and the CALEA Law Enforcement Standards would provide the blueprint to base our foundation upon. “Our minimum standards will be nothing short of excellence,” Densmore stated. We had our marching orders.
We established a timeline, followed the accreditation process, and our amazing journey began. Using the CALEA hiring and recruitment standards as our guide, we established a hiring process and only hired the best of the best. Next we established a training curriculum and once again, the CALEA standards provided our starting point. We trained each new employee and established the high level and quality of training required of an exemplary agency.
Chief Densmore said it best when he said, “Everyone needs a map to know where they are going and CALEA will be our road map to success.” Each week leading up to our deployment, Chief Densmore met with the command staff and we reviewed, discussed, and ironed out our policies, practices and procedures, using the CALEA Standards Manual, or the “big yellow book” as which it was commonly referred, as our guide. We systematically established policies, procedures and practices based on the CALEA model and Densmore’s vision.
Over the weeks that followed, we established a reporting process, dress codes, analysis models, pursuit policies, a code of conduct, evidence procedures, created forms, and much more. We covered everything needed to operate a police department from A to Z by following chapters 1 through 84 of the Standards for Law Enforcement Agencies. Our deployment date was steadily approaching and we knew we were ready; the excitement was electrifying and contagious. At midnight on April 27, 2008, Chief Densmore put the inaugural Johns Creek Police Department in service, and by doing so set in motion the beginning of our legacy.
Reflecting on those beginning months, it is difficult to verbalize the excitement and pressure we all felt as we methodically progressed through the process, and how critically important the CALEA model was to our success in building the agency from scratch. For most accreditation managers the last thing they want to hear is, “Because we have always done it that way.” But for me and our agency, this is the statement of success. When citizens commend our department for our community and business watch programs, we can say, “Thanks, we have always done it that way.” When we can promptly provide crime statistics or an analysis of some report or plan for which we are asked, we are told that it is very beneficial that the department collects this data and we say, “Thanks, but we have always done it that way.”
Our initial CALEA on-site assessment team conducted its exit interview with Chief Densmore and a room full of his staff on our agency’s two year anniversary. Needless to say we had a successful on-site assessment. And at our subsequent commission hearing, when Chief Densmore was asked what it was like to accomplish what our agency had accomplished in less than two years he joked: “It was one step down from insanity!” He went on to say, “We had a vision, CALEA was our foundation, and I have the best staff and officers a chief could ask for!”
Chief Densmore provided the leadership and empowered us to live up to our agency’s vision statement. We eagerly look forward to our first reaccreditation.