It began with a conversation…
On a cross country flight returning from a conference, sheriff’s administrators discussed a presentation they had attended describing a newly formed law enforcement accreditation commission. CALEA, the commission on accreditation for law enforcement agencies, a voluntary compliance program with the goal of standardizing law enforcement practices and improving service delivery based on industry standards, seemed a worthy endeavor. As the original law enforcement agency for the 1849 new state of Washington, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office has a uniquely proud history of law enforcement leadership and a long standing reputation for innovative practices in law enforcement. Not surprisingly, work began almost immediately crafting policy and procedures, modifying and tweaking existing guidelines and reviewing operational practices to align sheriff’s office directives in compliance with CALEA standards. In 1986, the late Sheriff Frank Kanekoa was awarded initial CALEA accreditation, making the Clark County Sheriff’s Office one of only three Sheriff’s Office’s nation-wide at that time, recognized with that distinction.
Fast forward to July 2014, when the Clark County Sheriff’s Office received our ninth consecutive CALEA accreditation, marking 28 years of continuous CALEA affiliation. Over the years, CALEA practices have served the sheriff’s office well and have become the corner stone of our operation. CALEA standards have become thoroughly institutionalized in our policy, operational procedures, management and personnel matters to the point that CALEA has simply become, “just the way we do business.” In fact, the vast majority of current sheriff’s office employees have only known operating under the umbrella of CALEA accreditation.
Public safety agencies can no longer afford to operate in isolation or allow practices out of balance with policy; agencies that work without a structured platform do so at their peril. Emerging technologies, the prominence of social media and instant information demands; court decisions with dire consequence for non-adherence and many other issues demand constant attention and policy review. Add to that, a number of law enforcement agencies across our nation unfortunately suffer from a lack of public trust. An agency’s failure to commit to only best recruitment, training, discipline, community outreach and operational practices will almost certainly result in a loss of public confidence, diminished staff morale and erosion of the bond of trust between the community and law enforcement. Ultimately, inattention to best practice may manifest into complaints and community discord, requiring the diversion of resource revenue for litigation and possibly even punitive action awards. In the aftermath of organizational distress, many agencies have found the need to hire pricey consultant firms and spend considerable time and capital in an attempt to rebuild agency character and re-establish relations with their community. Adhering to a recognized operational structure seems a much more reasonable, cost effective and prudent approach to the development and maintenance of a successful public safety agency.
The law enforcement landscape has certainly changed since 1986 but not the original purpose and objectives of CALEA. Providing a platform of best practices and current industry standards, CALEA continues to offer public safety agencies the opportunity to establish an organization that remains current in policy, procedure and practice, is responsive to the needs of the public, and better integrated into the fabric of the community they serve.
Sgt. Fred M. Neiman
Clark County Sheriff’s Office