Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Law Enforcement Accreditation in America: An In-Depth Analysis

Investigation Reveals the NYPD and Many Police
Departments Are Operating as Non-Accredited Entities

A 'From The G-Man' Exclusive

By Gary Glennell Toms 

In the From The G-Man report The Death of Andrew Kearse and the 'Special Relationship' Doctrine, the actions and practices of the Schenectady Police Department were examined after Kearse was taken into custody and died in route to the police station. Kearse's family and their attorney contend the department, namely Officer Mark Weekes, ignored Kearse's pleas for help during a medical distress event, which was captured on the vehicle's surveillance system. Ultimately, a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Weekes.

A portion of the aforementioned report stated the following:

On October 21, News10 (ABC) reported...."Attorney General Barbara Underwood released a statement saying, “regardless of the grand jury’s decision, Mr. Kearse’s Death was a tragedy that never should have happened.” The report also noted that Underwood urged the New York State legislature to enact a statewide policy to treat breathing problems as a medical emergency and that the Schenectady Police Department should also take steps to become an accredited law enforcement agency.

From The G-Man asked a federal law enforcement agent to interpret AG Underwood's request that the Schenectady Police Department take steps to become an accredited law enforcement agency. Under the condition of anonymity, he stated, "If that request was made, it means the department isn't operating as a full-fledged police department. In other words, the officers lack the training necessary to be considered a duly-recognized police department. Basically, again, according to the attorney general's recommendation, the Schenectady Police Department is the equivalent of a volunteer police force."

The report also included a link to a New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services listing of all accredited law enforcement agencies, from Albany to Yorktown. After reviewing the list a second time, approximately two weeks after the exclusive on the special relationship doctrine was published, From The G-Man discovered the New York Police Department (NYPD) was not on the list. The site then contacted Hilary McGrath, the
New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services's Law Enforcement Accreditation Program Manager. When asked if the New York Police Department is an accredited law enforcement agency, McGrath firmly stated, "No. They are not. It's done on a volunteer basis. We offer the training that allows them to become accredited, but they haven't applied." McGrath was also asked if she had any idea why the NYPD has not taken steps to become accredited. "I have no answer. That's something you'll have to ask the NYPD," she added.

Shortly after speaking with McGrath, the NYPD was contacted in effort to have an official or spokesperson explain why the largest and most renowned police department in the country had not obtained state or national accreditation. The call was forwarded to five different offices, but no one was able to answer the question when posed. An email was submitted to the offices of Police Commissioner James O'Neill and the Deputy Commissioner for Public Information (DCPI) soon after, but they did not respond to the query.

Additionally, From The G-Man located a 2006 article on the City of New York's website that indicated the New York Police Academy had obtained accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc., also known as CALEA. A call was placed to the organization to find out if the academy still held its accreditation status, and a representative confirmed that its status was still active and that the NYPD was not listed in CALEA's database as an accredited law enforcement agency.

In order to obtain a better understanding of law enforcement accreditation, its significance, and why the NYPD and many other police departments, nationwide, choose to operate as non-accredited entities, From The G-Man submitted several questions to Paul MacMillan, CALEA's Northeast Regional Program Manager. MacMillan served as Chief of Police for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Transit Police Department, from December 2008 until his retirement in 2014, and holds a Master’s degree in criminal justice administration from Western New England College.

Paul MacMillan

FTG: For the benefit of those who may not be familiar with the term, what exactly is an accredited law enforcement agency?

MacMillan: A CALEA Accredited law enforcement agency is one that has developed policies, procedures and practices that comply with the requisite number of standards within the CALEA® Standards for Law Enforcement Agencies Manual, which is a product promulgated by a 21-member board of commissioners. The standards cover a wide range of operational and administrative subjects and are considered by many to be “best practices” within the respective field. Accredited agencies are required to remain in compliance with these standards and they must demonstrate compliance during annual remote reviews and site-based reviews occurring every four years. They also are presented to Commission Review Committees as candidate agencies and the process must include public feedback, as well as interviews of other professionals impacted by the agency’s service delivery strategies.

FTG: What are the benefits of obtaining accreditation?

MacMillan: An accredited agency develops processes for internal review of policies and procedures, and they use data to help make the best possible management decisions. They are required to ensure the service delivery model takes into consideration community needs, resource management, ethics and business principles, accountability and stewardship, and responsibility to the organization’s oath to the public.

Accreditation includes a review from an external entity that has no interest in the organization, and therefore provides unbiased reviews of service strategies and internal control procedures. It requires the agency and its leadership to be transparent and willing to receive both positive and negative feedback, while also maintaining protocols that allow for the proper administration of justice and services.

Accredited agencies have strong community policing philosophies and generally develop a culture of accountability to employees, citizens, other public service organizations. They take into consideration the importance of partnerships and are open to change for the purpose of accomplishing key objectives.

The concept of accreditation supports progressiveness and at the same time institutionalizes important activities that promote accountability. This includes the collection and preservation of data, the use of data in rendering business decisions, and using contemporary strategies to resolve historic or reoccurring public safety problems.

An important concept in accreditation, is “what gets measured gets done”. Because CALEA assesses agencies on an ongoing basis, activities that may otherwise seem tertiary responsibilities are completed regularly. This ensures organizational integrity is maintained and accountability with public resources remains paramount, thereby promoting good stewardship.

FTG: When examining the impact of accreditation on law enforcement agencies, does the data indicate if there are more positives than negatives... or is it inconclusive?

MacMillan: Much of the research, which is limited, in the field of public safety regarding accreditation is clearly driven by the perspective of the researcher. In short, there are some that believe an agency can accomplish the same results without accreditation, while others use the model as a strong management component to ensure they meet their obligations to the community. General reviews of those participating in the process show that when data is collected through the accreditation process there are initial spikes in things like “citizen complaints”. However, these quickly adjust and become more consistent from year to year. From the perspective of CALEA, it is postulated this is indicative of agencies becoming more receptive to addressing key community concerns and establishing processes that are receptive to these ideas. Then, the culture of the organization changes and employees become more aware of their responsibilities, and leadership creates stronger accountability measures. These are positive attributes from accreditation and actually serve to document professional enhancements; however, they are sometimes used to show accreditation does not improve agencies. Again, this can be interpreted differently. However, it is difficult to argue against processes that require critical business practices to be applied perpetually with ongoing reviews of employee actions with regard to established policies that are linked to community priorities.

FTG: Accreditation of law enforcement agencies is done strictly on a volunteer basis. In stark contrast, the hospitals of America must be accredited. Why doesn't the same standard apply to police departments?

MacMillan: CALEA has been asked about this over the years by those serving in legislative capacities and it is the opinion of the organization that voluntary engagement in accreditation creates stronger integrity regarding standards compliance and the use of the standards for agency professional enhancements. To that end, if the process of law enforcement accreditation were to become a mandate, then the model shifts from a tool used by leaders and practitioners for improving the delivery of services and public accountability, to a regulatory strategy that simply serves to control activities of those working in the industry.

CALEA Accreditation requires and encourages the use of creativity in the development of public safety solutions, and it promotes progressiveness. It recognizes variance in needs of communities and does not attempt to tell agencies “how” to achieve desired outcomes; however, it does identify the areas of responsibility and the establishment of goals and objectives. This allows the model to be very portable with regard to geography, organizational function, and many other attributes that impact service delivery models.

Additionally, once programs like accreditation become regulatory in nature, they are more subject to intervention from those with specific agendas. CALEA has remained separated from this concern because it is not affiliated with any governmental or non-governmental agency. We do not directly receive grant funding and our primary charge is to review agencies against the established standards, and the standards are developed through independent research and the subject matter expertise of the board of commissioners.

FTG: Why do non-accredited police departments vastly outnumber their counterpart?

CALEA Accreditation is challenging for a number of reasons. Primarily, it requires agencies to inspect every component of its administrative and operational practices. This is time-consuming and forces those participating to take action to resolve shortcomings and those issues that do not complement the established standards. Leaders of agencies feel they often have too many responsibilities with too few resources to accomplish this type of review and engagement.

There is a cost associated with CALEA Accreditation engagement. These costs can be found on our website but generally range from $3500 to $5700 annually for those in the reaccreditation process. And, agencies participating in CALEA Accreditation must create resources within the agency to ensure compliance with standards and document these actions. Although this is an in-kind expense, it does require the dedication of resource. Some leaders believe these same objectives can be accomplished without the time and expense of the accreditation process. However, again, what gets measured gets done. Our experience tells us that every newly enrolled agency in the accreditation process discovers issues that need resolution and they become more comprehensive and effective in developing sound policies and practices that complement community service priorities.

It’s also important to point out that while the number of accredited agencies is low in comparison to the total number of agencies, those agencies that are CALEA Accredited make up more than 25% of all sworn law enforcement officers in the country.

FTG: Do you believe police departments, nationwide, should be accredited? If yes, what example would you cite as a major reason for them to do so?

MacMillan: We believe that agencies that are focused on becoming the very best public safety services providers should consider CALEA Accreditation as a tool for continuous organizational improvement. The process of accreditation is not about the award, but the ongoing pursuit of professional excellence with an acknowledgment of accountability to the community and its employees.

Agencies that are accredited are required to establish sound training and re-training on key issues like interactions with those suffering from mental illness, they are required to develop evidence integrity processes, they are directed to develop victim support services, they are required to apply control measures for the use of force and then evaluate their applications, they must develop and annually review recruitment and selection protocols, they must have internal grievance procedures, they must control all high-risk activities, and they are required to have readiness plans for critical and unusual occurrences. Although these are just a sampling of the impacts of accreditation, it is clear the model provides sound direction based on many years of experience in the field. For these reasons, agencies committed to effectively meeting their professional obligations should consider accreditation as a solution.

FTG: Would you say a small police department (100 officers or less) is more likely to embrace and successfully complete the accreditation process?

MacMillan: Historically, the largest and the smallest agencies did not engage in accreditation. However, over the past several years we have seen organizations like the California Highway Patrol experience success with our programming; and, we have seen small organizations with less than 25 full-time personnel have success with the model too. We continue to struggle with attracting those agencies with fewer than 10 full-time personnel, which is almost always directly related to having the resources to manage the process in conjunction with daily duties.

FTG: Do you think non-accredited police departments have the right to proclaim they're "the best in the country".....when other departments have received accreditation from CALEA, which is considered the gold standard?

MacMillan: CALEA believes that CALEA Accredited agencies have demonstrated a commitment to professional excellence against a body of standards that are recognized as best practices in the industry. This commitment is an attribute that must be considered when evaluating the overall culture and professionalism of any organization. Because we do not compare agencies against one another, we would never attempt to determine rankings of agencies. However, we do believe our programming has value and those that have been assessed against our standards can claim they have comprehensively reviewed their practices and have made management decisions that complement their mission, purpose and values.

FTG: Tragically, a significant number of Black men, women and teens have been killed by police over the last two decades. Few officers are ever convicted, but some have been charged for the inexplicable or unjustified use of deadly force against people that committed mere misdemeanors or no crime at all. This has been confirmed through multiple news reports. Do you believe accreditation would help prevent these types of incidents?

MacMillan: CALEA asserts that a critical portion of the process of accreditation focuses on “use of force” by police personnel in the performance of their duties. This ensures training is conducted ranging from immediate action to de-escalation. De-escalation policies should also include a discussion of proportionality, using distance and cover, tactical repositioning, "slowing down" situations that do not pose an immediate threat, and calling for supervisory and other resources.

Accreditation includes standards with the intent of establishing policies on the use of deadly force that provides officers with guidance in the use of force in life-and-death situations and to prevent loss of life to include that of the officer. Furthermore, there are standards that encourage the establishment of use of force or response to resistance reporting systems within the agency for effective review and analysis. The reporting systems should help identify trends, improve training and employee safety, and provide timely information for the agency addressing use of force issues with the public. Early and accurate reporting helps establish agency credibility.

As you can see from this short discussion, CALEA Accreditation applies great attention to this area that impacts the community and the officers. It strives to strike a balance between officer safety and accountability. And, it works to establish processes of review that promote ongoing development of strategies to reduce the likelihood of death or injury to citizens and police employees.

The work of the police officer is very challenging, and they must remain prepared to address extremely volatile issues in the name of public safety. CALEA takes this public responsibility seriously and applies the concept of training and accountability at every level of the organization to improve the opportunities for the very best outcomes.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

A vital and courageous report. The next step is to have one or more of the political bodies in New York City take up this issue, which is of vital importance. The G-Man has done very important research on this matter and has taken a very courageous stand towards getting this deficiency remedied. I am physician. As The G-Man points out, non-accredited hospital cannot exist without accreditation, for it would not get paid by the several insurers. How can a police department exist without meeting certain standards, just hospitals are required to do?
Hopefully this report will lead to some major actions to be taken in re the NYPD.