Accrediation: Fad or Fixture?

By Sharp, Arthur G. | Law & Order, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Accrediation: Fad or Fixture?


Sharp, Arthur G., Law & Order


What do the Savannah, Ga., Mesa, Ariz., and Las Vegas, Nev., police departments have in common? And what common thread links the departments in Annville Township, Pa., Frankfort, Ill., and Jackson, Wyo.? The first three are accredited; the second trio are not and have no plans at this point to seek accreditation.

There exists a third group, comprised of administrators who are undecided about the benefits of accreditation, that lies somewhere in between. These people are hesitant to seek accreditation until they receive answers to questions about the process-and questions abound.

Accreditation is a rather controversial topic in law enforcement circles. Some administrators are not convinced that it will benefit their departments, especially in light of the costs involved, its dubious impact on agencies' effectiveness, the public's lukewarm appreciation of accreditation, the inability to quantify the effects on officer morale, etc.

A recent poll of randomly selected law enforcement agencies indicated five major arguments against accreditation: too expensive, too time-consuming, dubious benefits, hard to justify to community government, and department administration does not believe in accreditation. Chief Robin Morse, Laurens, S.C., lent credence to the last criticism: "I feel if we are doing our job professionally and properly, then accreditation has nothing to offer. It is expensive and time-consuming and can lead to having to add personnel just to comply." Morse is not alone in his opinion.

Some departments have tried accreditation and found its benefits not worth the effort or the costs. "We were accredited in 1989, reaccredited in 1994-and then opted out," said Chief Robert Key, of James City County, Va. "Accreditation is too rule-bound to accommodate community policing."

Key's department is not unique. Approximately 10 percent of accredited agencies do not seek re-accreditation, according to Sylvester Daughtry, former police chief of Greensboro, N.C., and current Executive Director of the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA).

Not all administrators agree with Morse and Key, of course. But there are many who remain unwilling to commit themselves and their departments to the intense scrutiny involved in the process until they have concrete evidence that accreditation has a positive impact on law enforcement work-and that it is a permanent fixture rather than a passing fad.

The debate on that continues. In a recent poll of law enforcement agencies, 53 percent of the respondents said accreditation is more a status symbol or public relations tool than it is a valuable process. Twenty-one percent disagreed, and remaining respondents were unsure.

Status symbol or not, "it helps to improve the process," said Fred Gaudet, Buckhannon, W.V., Police Chief. The poll results support Gaudet's statement.

Fifty-four percent of the respondents allowed that accreditation has an appreciable impact on how well an agency performs, compared to 31 percent who did not. (Again, the rest were not sure.) Answers to more specific questions regarding the six major benefits from accreditation as defined by CALEA highlighted the mixed feeling about accreditation.

Sixty percent of the respondents said accreditation does establish accountability within the office. Twenty-eight percent said no. The percentages rose regarding the definition of services provided: 72 percent said that accreditation defines services, 24 percent said it does not.

Responses regarding the establishment of uniformity in service delivery highlighted the doubt expressed by administrators in general over accreditation. When asked if they thought accreditation establishes uniformity, 44 percent said it did, 32 percent disagreed, and 24 percent weren't sure.

The opinions were similarly varied regarding the promotion of efficient and effective administration and deployment of personnel: 36 percent said that accreditation does lead to favorable deployment, 32 percent said it doesn't, and 32 percent were not sure. …

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