Monday, March 17, 2008

Accreditation awarded

Friday evening, I flew to Atlanta to join a few other staff members at the meeting of the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. We were there to appear before the Commission regarding on our application for a three year reaccreditation.

The trip was rather interesting. I arrived Friday night, and caught the subway into the City. Hoofing it from Peachtree Center, I arrived at the Hotel just after 9:00 P.M., and minutes later downtown Atlanta was struck by a tornado. The estimated $130 million in damage was centered at Centennial Olympic Park, and began on the west side of Peachtree Steet just two blocks west of our Hotel on Courtland at Harris Street.

Our meeting with the committee began at 7:30 A.M. on Saturday, went smoothly, and left us with some time before the formal presentation ceremonies, so mid-morning we walked over for a first hand look. It was surreal. The displaced guests of many damaged hotels were carting their belongings along the streets. The huge tower of the Westin Hotel had many of it's exterior glass panels and windows blown out, and drapes fluttered out of windows well above the 30th floor. It was the same at the Equitable Building, Georgia Pacific, and the entire north face of the Omni and CNN Center. Several of Centennial Olympic Park's columns were laying on the ground reminiscent of the ruins of the Roman Forum, and the tree limbs were spiked with pink and yellow insulation.

The SEC Conference Tournament was going on at the Georgia Dome when the tornado hit, with a capacity crowd. The damage to the Dome displaced the tournament for the remainder of the weekend. Several cars were crushed by falling billboards, and several buildings had some serious structural damage. The huge amount of glass that littered the area within a hundred yards of each of the most seriously damaged buildings made us wonder how no one was killed in the shower of shards from the upper floors of some of these skyscrapers.

Atlanta police had blocked entry into the downtown area, so the spectators taking cell-phone-camera photos were mostly the occupants of all the downtown hotels, mostly wearing Tennessee orange and Kentucky blue. I had a nice chat with a retired 32-year Atlanta police officer directing traffic at one of the blocked intersections who had just been mobilized as a reserve for a 12-hour shift. I jokingly told him that we were sort of enjoying our unfamiliar role as gawkers being part of the problem.

Net result of the trip: LPD was awarded our sixth accreditation, and a meritorious recognition as one of a handful of agencies to be accredited for more than 15 years (our first one was in 1989.) I appreciate very much the work of our personnel, particularly Capt. Joy Citta, Sgt. Don Scheinost, Officer Katie Flood, and former Officer Kacky Finnell, who played especially important roles in preparing us for an exemplary reaccreditation.

We have several staff members who play a significant role in our accreditation, but no one does so full-time. We estimate that the management of the accreditation process amounts to about one full-time equivalent position. Some people doubt the value of accreditation. They need to spend some time with me in interviews with the companies bidding on our insurance business, or with the lawyers preparing our defense against lawsuits.

Accreditation has had some serious financial benefits by helping us keep our huge insurance costs in check, our losses low, helping our defense in lawsuits, and avoiding vulnerabilities that would increase our risks. There are 67 pretty good examples of this posted on this page. Most of the costs of accreditation have nothing to do with accreditation, rather they are the price of good policing. As I told the Commissioners, the real benefit of accreditation is that it requires us to adopt strong operational and managerial practices and to constantly reevaluate these against the best-practices standards. This would and should be done whether we sought accreditation or not, and it serves both the members of the department and the citizens well.


Anonymous said...

I don't doubt the value of accreditation, but couldn't they have fed-exed the award to Lincoln?

Tom Casady said...

Anonymous 9:15-

Yes, it could have been mailed. The Commission holds a meeting with each agency where they review the report of the on-site team that conducted the assessment. They ask a few questions; some softballs, but some rather probing, then vote. Ours was on Saturday morning, early.

We have been through six accreditation cycles since 1989, and I've never attended the meeting with the Commission before, sending one of the assistant chiefs instead. I thought it was about time that I appeared personally, after being conspicuously absent for five. I would have vastly preferred to handle the whole thing by conference call. One of my pet peeves is dealing with O'Hare or Hartsfield when a speaker phone could have accomplished the same thing.

The other members of our team were there for 3 days, and attended two days of training sessions offered in conjunction with the semi-annual CALEA conference on Thursday and Friday prior to the meeting. About 600 people in total were in attendance from 100 agencies.

Anonymous said...

I think the Atlanta tornado was only an F2, and the path was pretty narrow. What do you think would have happened if it had been something like the Hallam tornado a couple years ago, that was an F4 and over two miles wide?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response about the trip Chief.

Anonymous said...

How many Nebraska police departments are accredited? Even a bigger question is how many departments are accredited nation wide? It's been my understanding that a lot of departments don't get accredited because it costs a lot of money to get to those standards. Some of the standards are viewed as not significant enough to justify the expense. Therefore they just give up the accreditation title. Would this be fair to say? How much money has Lincoln spent over the years getting and keeping up with accreditation standards?

Anonymous said...

Thank you to all the officers that helped to find Matt. Perhaps this will be the turning point and he will avoid many trips to prison in his coming years.
My sons mom was told he was found safe and she went on about how bad a parent I was...go figure. Thank you all for the support and compliments about the way i handled this
Jim J

Tom Casady said...

Anonymous 7:42-

The three largest agencies in Nebraska are accredited: Lincoln, Omaha, and the Nebraska State Patrol. There are around 800 nationally.

We pay CALEA an annual fee of $4,965. The CALEA fee structure is graduated by agency size. Because of the costs of travel for the on-site assessment, it seems disproportionately high for the smallest agencies, which is unfortunate.

I think the main disincentive to accreditation is not the cost, rather the work involved. It's not an easy process--particularly the first time through. As I explained in the post, though, I think most of the expenses from this internal work are the cost of good policing, and should be done anyway. A good example of this would be the difficulty of the CALEA-required evidence procedures and audits. Who can argue that this isn't important, or that it doesn't protect the agency and citizens?

There are a few CALEA standards, I agree, that are unnecessarily nit-picky. I pointed one of these out to the committee at our meeting on Saturday. Overall, though, they've cut the number in half since our first accreditation, and I think they are doing a much better job weeding out the dandelions from the standards.