by Sergeant Fred M. Neiman
Clark County (WA) Sheriff’s Office
“Accreditation is pretty much just a paper chase, isn’t it?” a colleague remarked as we visited over lunch one day and the conversation turned to my duties as accreditation manager. “There is a fair amount of paper involved, alright,” I answered, thinking of the many times I’d rummaged through the squad room briefing basket and how I no longer passed by a bulletin board without giving it a quick look over. I had even caught myself occasionally snooping through mail box slots, grabbing a quick copy of an item of interest and discretely returning the original, all in search of potential paper proofs of compliance. “But,” I continued, “I prefer to think of my job more in terms of collecting people, not just paper.”
As a CALEA Accredited law enforcement agency since 1986, the Clark County, Washington Sheriff’s Office must annually document compliance with 481 internationally-recognized law enforcement standards. Why should a law enforcement agency voluntarily operate under such industry standards? Maybe it would be helpful if I shared a few of the compliance “people” proofs.
A while back, a homeless woman was struck crossing the highway and taken to the hospital. The following day the investigating deputy visited her in the hospital and took a statement. Before leaving, he handed her his business card and told her to have the nurse call him when she is released and he’d bring her down to our property office and have her personal possessions returned. You see, that deputy had collected, inventoried, and logged all of that woman’s worldly possessions into evidence for safekeeping.
A patrol deputy learned from the kids at the trailer park that their parking lot basketball hoop had disappeared; the deputy launched an investigation even though no adult had bothered to report the theft. His investigation led to a metal scrap hauler who had mistakenly removed the hoop, he convinced the scrapper to replace the hoop and the kids got their basketball hoop back.
Not all of our mentors wear stripes, bars, or stars; a seasoned veteran was concerned when he saw a rookie deputy heckling a person being held under arrest. Later the older deputy took the newbie aside and scolded him for unnecessarily ridiculing his custody. The senior deputy told the new hire of a personal experience when he was caught in a heated situation with no cover at hand, but was spared by one of the participants from what was certain to be a drunken brawl, or perhaps much worse. Help came from a man who was no friend to law enforcement, but who intervened on the deputy’s behalf because he remembered being treated with professional respect in an encounter years earlier. The older deputy added, “Most crooks don’t take it personally if you’re just doing your job, but they will remember how they are treated while you do it, and it may be some other cop that pays the price because you wanted to be funny.”
Included as one of the proofs is a personal note written by a major crimes detective and sent to the victim of a violent assault. The note of encouragement to a frightened crime victim was so supportive, reassuring and heartfelt, I felt compelled to tell the detective that, God forbid, a member of my own family suffered such a brutal attack, I would want her handling the case.
Of course, not all “people proofs” are paid staff; we have tremendous community member volunteers that help the sheriff’s office in many ways. Everybody knows about our reserve deputies, the handicap parking patrol and neighborhood watch program volunteers, but most don’t know about the less recognized and unheralded folks that quietly serve behind the scenes. We have a retired surgeon who comes in about once a week and works with crime analysis. With an interest in criminal justice and a head for numbers, he thought crime analysis might be an area where he could make a contribution. Our crime analyst tells me the Doc’s work has been very helpful identifying trends and patterns for directed patrols and crime stats.
In another case, a woman who volunteers in the criminal records section spends several days a month doing mundane data entry and running routine reports. Few know though that she possesses the skill set and experience as a corporate executive, yet she chooses to help with the least desired chores because someone needs to do it.
Of course there are many other community members that provide support, guidance, or otherwise lend their time and talents to our agency. We have citizen advisory members, neighborhood association members, Santa’s Posse members, citizen academy attendees, Safe Kids, and Traffic Safety boards, search and rescue, jail to community re-entry and outreach volunteers, and many others. It is truly impressive how intertwined with the community the sheriff’s office is. The strength of our agency lies in the human support; paid and unpaid people that help build community trust and drive our success and that’s not by happenstance. It starts with a philosophy of partnership and a working foundation built with proven principles, standards of conduct, and operational guidelines. That’s what operating under internationally-recognized standards do for our agency.
Yes, of course we collect paper; there are contracts and crime reports, meeting minutes, and analysis periodicals, but we must always be mindful that behind each paragraph in each piece of paper is the face of a person in the performance of a duty for our community. Whether they put in a 40 hour work week, volunteer once a week or once a year; whether they receive wages in salary or personal satisfaction, each one makes a contribution toward enhancing the safety and the quality of life in Clark County.