Certified for Safety: Obtaining Campus Law Enforcement Accreditation Can Be a Lengthy, Intense Process. Here's Why More Institutions Are Choosing to Pursue It

Article excerpt

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WHEN PAUL OMINSKY IS ASKED WHAT THE future might hold for campus security, law enforcement accreditation comes to his mind first. With a 35-year span in this field, Ominsky can easily cite benefits of being accredited, such as that it raises a department's external credibility, helps clarify procedures, and enhances working relationships with state and municipal peers.

"When you are accredited, it means that you are doing the law enforcement part of your job at a very high level," says Ominsky, who recently became Princeton's director of public safety, after serving as director of public safety for Mount Holyoke, Smith and Hampshire colleges (Mass.).

The step-by-step process for accreditation is quite rigorous, as campus police and public safety departments voluntarily re-examine and adapt procedures to comply with standards while providing documentation showing progress. When the department is ready, assessors are called in to conduct an onsite evaluation and create a report used by the accreditation commission to make a decision.

Whether the accrediting body is a state agency or a national association, more campus police and public safety departments are pursuing accreditation which is based on overall operations for meeting law enforcement standards. Accreditation helps campus security departments to better manage risks, emphasize greater evidence collection and report writing, and clarify job responsibilities.

With multiple accreditation avenues, the decision to undergo the process also involves determining how.

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Going National

Two national associations--the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) and the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA)--offer three-year accreditations. Depending on the institution, colleges and universities can obtain the status from one or both.

Since the Virginia Tech tragedy three years ago, CALEA has seen a slight rise in campus police departments' interest in accreditation processes among institutions with sworn law enforcement officers, according to Associate Director Jim Brown. CALEA first awarded accreditation to university police in March 1986. "Accreditation is pretty well understood by the university community; it's part of their academic environment," says Brown, who describes the process as a self-check to answer the question, "Are we prepared?"

As of March, CALEA had just over 75 institutions enrolled in the accreditation process; another 28 are in self-assessment, and 48 others have been awarded. Brown says what appears to interest campus police departments about CALEA's accreditation program is that it's designed to meet "the expectations of everyone concerned with the law enforcement function on a public or private campus." It's not just police chiefs and safety directors who have a stake in keeping things safe and ensuring officers are doing their jobs well. Presidents and chancellors, for example, will find themselves responding to inquiries from parents and the media about police actions.

One of five university law enforcement agencies accredited in its state, the University of North Texas Police Department earned its initial CALEA accreditation in November 2006, and renewed it in November 2009. The department also has IACLEA accreditation, first awarded in May 2007 and then renewed in November.

Why both? "We believed it appropriate to achieve CALEA accreditation as a law enforcement agency and to add IACLEA accreditation to demonstrate compliance with those additional standards which relate to colleges and universities only," says Chief of Police Richard Deter. "Our goal was to verify that our internal policies, procedures, services, and programs were consistent with best practices in both the law enforcement and college- and university-specific environments. …