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Mar 27

What is CALEA and why is it important?

Posted on March 27, 2017 at 3:56 PM by Jamie Bastas

I just returned from the Spring meeting of CALEA: the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. I’ve had the honor of serving as one of the 21 volunteer Commissioners since 2009, and at the end of this year I will be “term limited” and retire from the Commission.

CALEA was formed in 1979 by the founding organizations including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, The Police Executive Research Forum, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, and the National Sheriffs Association. It was started with the recognition of an absence of national standards within the policing industry, and that to build the public’s trust and partnership required a credentialing process that upheld best practices. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t think of getting a medical procedure at a hospital that wasn’t accredited, you probably wouldn’t want your hard earned money going to tuition for a college or university that wasn’t accredited….why wouldn’t you expect the same of your police department?

From its humble beginnings, CALEA has evolved over the years to the point that even though just under 1000 of the more than 18,000 police agencies in the US are accredited, they represent almost 25% of the sworn officers working the streets of our country. Additionally, police agencies in Canada, Mexico, and Barbados have carried the CALEA accreditation seal. The process is rigorous; after a lengthy process of “self-assessment” during which agencies must ensure a strong infrastructure of policies and procedures coupled with training and accountability, a candidate agency undergoes an extensive on-site assessment by CALEA assessors sent from states other than the agency’s. After an exhaustive review of the proofs of compliance with every standard, the on-site team files an official report with CALEA; the report is then sent to a team of reviewing Commissioners, and on the Saturday morning of every CALEA meeting (3 times/year), the review committee holds a hearing on the assessment, and votes to advance the recommendation on to the full Commission. Finally, accreditation awards are presented at the Saturday night banquet after action by the full Commission.

To maintain accredited status, every three years an on-site team arrives and conducts another thorough review. It is necessary that each accredited agency maintain its efforts of standards compliance; those who let it all sit for 2.5 years before starting to prepare rarely get through the renewal process without significant issues or conditions imposed. Every year, there are time-sensitive reports and analysis required by the standards. Starting in 2016, the cycle has shifted to a 4-year period between on-site visits, but a new added dimension is an annual review by CALEA staff using electronic means to access the hundreds of standards files maintained by each agency, to ensure that ongoing work is being accomplished as required.

There are many benefits of accreditation, some more tangible than others. Quality applicants tend to look for indicators like accreditation status, so it is a useful recruiting tool. More practically, accredited agencies tend to get sued less; under the Federal Codes through which many police lawsuits emerge, plaintiffs must show a “pattern and practice” of doing things wrong. Accreditation is a ready example of a pattern and practice of doing things right, AND doing the right things.

The Hampton Roads area is well represented in the CALEA family: Chesapeake, Hampton, Norfolk, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, and Williamsburg, as well as the Virginia State Police are all CALEA accredited.

Newport News was one of the earliest agencies to embrace the concept of accreditation, having first become accredited in 1986. Newport News is also one of only 15 agencies to achieve what is known by CALEA as the Tri Arc award, meaning that NNPD holds three CALEA accreditations: the Police Department, the Public Safety Communications Center, and the Public Safety Training Academy.

Newport News PD is my third consecutive accredited agency, and its long time relationship with CALEA held great importance to me in seeking appointment as chief here. Walking into a CALEA accredited agency means that it has a proven record of complying with internationally established best practices, but more importantly, reflects a culture that is willing to explore new ideas and engage in constant self-improvement and assessment. Newport News residents can take pride in knowing that NNPD’s multiple accreditations reflects CALEA’s motto of being the “Gold Standard” within the policing industry.