Regional Program Manager
North Central Region
The accreditation process provides opportunities for agencies to provide consistent delivery of high quality public safety services. Concurrent with this process, significant benefits are also realized by agencies and employees. Line-level employees may not be aware of some of the positive features associated with working at an accredited agency. This article highlights the value of CALEA accreditation when communicating agency expectations, seeking grants for equipment used by line-level employees, and defending against civil litigation.
Line-level employees need a clear understanding of what is expected of them when confronted with tasks associated with everything from routine calls to high-profile critical incidents. Inadequate or lack of written directives can result in decisions based on information sources that are not in the best interest of the agency, the officer, or the population served. Those sources of information could be the policies of a previous employer, advice from other officers, television/movies, or at best, an employee’s prior training. Without policy guidance the likelihood of “just winging it” increases, sometimes with unfortunate results. Media reports of alleged improper handling of incidents by law enforcement officers usually include a comment about determining the agency’s policy for handling the situation. The best practices incorporated in CALEA standards, when applied to regularly reviewed and revised written directives, clearly communicates how expectations should be met by both operational and administrative employees of the agency.
Public safety organizations have opportunities to apply for grants to enhance operations beyond the constraints of their budgets. Grants have been used by agencies to purchase equipment heavily relied upon by line-level officers. Grant funding may have enabled purchases of ballistic vests, air purifying respirators (gas masks), computer aided dispatch systems (CAD), records management systems (RMS), digital interoperable radio equipment, firearms simulation systems, tactical team equipment, and body cameras. Nearly all grant applications require a brief summary of the agency, a plan for how the requested grant funding will be utilized, and a reference to how the funding will support the goals and objectives of the agency strategic plan. CALEA Agencies frequently mention their accredited status in the agency summary section of grant applications. Mentioning CALEA standards related to the use of desired equipment may be included in the grant application, e.g., special purposed vehicles, body cameras, ballistic vests, recording calls for service or self-initiated activities, etc. Relating the use of grant funding to the agency strategic plan is more readily accomplished when a current long-range plan is regularly reviewed with performance measures considered. This procedure is consistent with the CALEA standard associated with evaluating progress made toward attainment of goals and objectives.
Agencies have relied upon their voluntary participation in the accreditation process as a key element of their defense strategy during civil liability cases. A decision handed down on February 6, 2017 by the United States District Court, District of Connecticut, involved a use of force incident by officers of the Enfield (CT) Police Department. In addition to the Town of Enfield, the Chief of Police, one Sergeant, and five officers were specifically named as defendants “in their official and individual capacities.” It should be noted this civil action was aimed not just at the financial resources of the town, but at the personal assets of the individual officers. This case resulted in a positive ruling for the defendants. Page 16 of the decision specifically acknowledges the accredited status of the agency with CALEA and the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council when referencing “formal policies governing various aspects of arrests and seizures, including the use of less than lethal force.” In interviews with Deputy Chief Gary Collins and Accreditation Manager Thomas Pyrcz, I was informed of the recent on-site and accredited status of the agency being instrumental in the disqualification of an expert witness. The disallowed “expert” was attempting to portray agency policies as obsolete and inadequate. Christopher Demski v. Town of Enfield, et al is available for review below.
Demski vs. Enfield
Earning and maintaining CALEA accreditation requires a significant commitment by many agency employees. Frequently, the benefits of working at an accredited agency may not be readily apparent to line-level employees. While this information is focused toward current employees, it may also be useful for recruiting purposes. CALEA agencies are recognized as leaders in public safety due to their ongoing commitment to excellence!