Police officers, dispatchers begin road to accreditation
“It’s a way to professionalize the agency,” said Deneault, who is taking charge of the department’s efforts to qualify under the Rhode Island Police Accreditation Coalition. “I’m excited about it. It’s a great way to continually self-assess what we do, which is always a positive thing, and it’s something the town can be proud of.”
The state coalition gives local departments a new way to earn accreditation and an alternative to going through a national board.
According to Deneault, there has historically been a process for police departments across the country through a nonprofit national accrediting agency, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.
Jamestown has looked into applying for accreditation through the agency in the past, she said, and Thomas Tighe was considering it while he was chief of police. However, it’s a very expensive and time-consuming, according to Deneault.
Then recently, the state came up with its own program, which makes the accreditation process affordable. The standards are “loosely based” on the standards from the national agency, Deneault said.
Deneault, a 19-year veteran of the local police force, said the impetus for the program came from the state Interlocal Trust and the state police chiefs association. (Interlocal Trust provides insurance for municipal government.)
“The police chiefs association dreamed this up, started it and put together the coalition,” she said.
Christine Crocker, a retired Cumberland police captain, was hired as the state manager. Over the past summer, the coalition released the accreditation manual. It established the guidelines the departments will follow.
The Interlocal Trust is giving Jamestown police a $1,000 grant toward the $2,000 fee. The department will be responsible for the $1,000 balance.
Although Deneault is the accreditation manager, she stressed the project will be a team effort. Different members of the command staff will take responsibility for various aspects of police work, she said.
Everyone in the department will participate in the accreditation, Deneault said. The Jamestown Police Department has 14 sworn police officers, including Police Chief Ed Mello, but the dispatchers will also have to comply with some state standards.
“All employees will have some involvement just based upon their function,” she said.
The department accreditation also “covers fair and nondiscriminatory hiring practices,” as well as best practices while officers are in the field.
“The point of it is that you’re voluntarily complying with a set of professional standards,” she said.
Jamestown police already strive to follow best practices on the job, she said, but some of the standard operating procedures have never been codified in writing.
Deneault says the department already has a procedure manual, but some policies may need to be added.
Even though it’s mostly business as usual, meeting the accreditation standard can protect the town from liability in the event of a lawsuit.
Asked about hypothetical examples, Deneault said if an officer were practicing outside accepted standards, the department would be less liable for damages in the event of a lawsuit. The officer would be disciplined or terminated, she said, but the town would be able to prove “that is not the policy of the department and the officer was acting on his own.”
Deneault said practically all Rhode Island police departments are participating, with the possible exception of the law enforcement agencies that already have national accreditation. There is no mandate, however. The department is undergoing the accreditation process voluntarily.
The Jamestown police will have three years to satisfy the accreditation requirements.
“But we want to be ready in a year,” she said. “We recognize the importance.”
Along with building public confidence in the department, accreditation will boost the staff’s confidence. The department already provides training, but with accreditation, the training has to be comprehensive and conducted on a schedule.
“To perform your duties, you’re not being left out in the wind to make up your own mind,” she said.
For example, if the accreditation plan says the officers will receive first-aid training every two years, the department has to stick to the plan and provide the training.
“It formalizes their training,” she said.
As a result, the staff can be sure they are being “properly trained and evaluated.”
Deneault said the manual lists more than 100 different standards that departments must meet to earn accreditation.
“Documentation is a huge part of accreditation,” she said. To qualify under each standard, the police have to show evidence that the department is meeting the standard by things called proofs.
Deneault said a proof could be a photograph, a written policy or a sample of an employee evaluation. “They all go into a file, so it’s an ongoing process,” she said.
After initial accreditation, the coalition will send a team to inspect the department and review the proofs every three years.
“It’s not just once you get inspected and you’re done,” she said.
Mello thinks being accredited is important for the department.
“The accreditation process in Rhode Island is akin to the peer evaluations that we have come to expect in many professions,” he said. “The hard working and committed members of the department will all be part of the accreditation and evaluation process under the direction of Lt. Deneault. As the department works toward accreditation, we will undoubtedly continue to improve our policies and practices and thereby our service to the community.”