by Sergeant Fred M. Neiman
Clark County (WA) Sheriff’s Office
On a cross country flight returning from a conference, sheriff’s administrators discussed a presentation they had attended describing a newly formed law enforcement accreditation commission. CALEA®, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, was promoting a voluntary compliance program with a goal of standardizing law enforcement best practices and improving service delivery based on industry standards. The participants in this conversation agreed, it seemed a worthy endeavor.
As the original law enforcement agency since 1849 for the new territory of Washington, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office has a uniquely proud history of law enforcement leadership and a long standing reputation for innovative practices in law enforcement. Not surprisingly, work began almost immediately crafting policy and procedures, modifying and tweaking existing guidelines and reviewing operational practices to align sheriff’s office directives with CALEA Standards. In 1986, through the leadership of the late Sheriff Frank Kanekoa, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office was awarded initial CALEA Accreditation, making it one of only three sheriff’s office’s nation-wide at that time, to have achieved that distinction.
Fast forward to July 2014, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office receives its ninth consecutive CALEA Accreditation, marking 28 years of continuous CALEA affiliation. Over the years, CALEA practices have served the sheriff’s office well and have become the corner stone of our operation. CALEA Standards have become thoroughly institutionalized in our policy, operational procedures, management, and personnel matters to the point that CALEA has simply become, “just the way we do business.” In fact, the vast majority of current sheriff’s office employees have only worked under the umbrella of CALEA Accreditation.
No public safety agency can afford to operate in isolation or allow practices out of balance with policy; agencies that work without a structured platform do so at their peril. Emerging technologies, the prominence of social media and instant information demands; court decisions with dire consequence for non-adherence, and many other issues demand constant attention and policy review. If you add a lack of public trust to that, any law enforcement agency that fails to commit to only best recruitment, training, discipline, community outreach and operational practices will almost certainly experience a loss of public confidence, diminished staff moral, and an erosion of the bond of trust between the community and law enforcement.
Ultimately, inattention to best practices may manifest into complaints and community discord, requiring the diversion of resource revenue for litigation and possibly even punitive action awards. In the aftermath of organizational distress, many agencies have found the need to hire pricey consultant firms and spend considerable time and capital in an attempt to rebuild agency character and re-establish relations with their community. Adhering to a recognized operational structure seems a much more reasonable, cost effective and prudent approach to the development and maintenance of a successful public safety agency.
The law enforcement landscape has certainly changed since 1986, but not the original purpose and objectives of CALEA. Providing a platform of best practices and current industry standards, CALEA continues to offer public safety agencies the opportunity to establish an organization that remains current in policy, procedure and practice, is responsive to the needs of the public, and better integrated into the fabric of the community they serve.