WOONSOCKET – It's taking longer than he hoped, but Police Chief Thomas Carey is still pushing the police department toward full accreditation by a national organization known as CALEA – the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.
The department has already devoted significant resources toward laying the groundwork for accreditation by overhauling its massive catalog of policies and procedures.
Now the department is ready to move on to the next phase by hiring a worker to manage the trek toward accreditation, says Carey.
The chief proposes creating a $48,000 a year position using funds that were initially set aside to pay for a radio technician whose job has been phased out.
The chief says the civilian worker would wear two hats for the department, spending approximately half his or her time pursuing grants that may be unrelated to CALEA accreditation.
The proposal came before the City Council on Monday, but the panel tabled the measure for more discussion on Sept. 6 before deciding whether to vote on it.
A veteran of the St. Petersburg, Fla., police department, Carey pledged to pursue national accreditation for the local police force when he was appointed chief in September 2008.
It's like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for police departments – an affirmation by an independent organization that the department adheres to the highest standards in law enforcement.
“You try to maintain the best practices in the law enforcement profession,” says the chief. “I want Woonsocket to be the best police department in the state. I want people to say, “That's a great police department.'”
Some critics say gaining – and maintaining – accreditation by CALEA is too costly, but Cumberland Police Chief John Desmarais says it's not unmanageable.
Cumberland has been accredited by CALEA since 2002 and is one of a handful of law enforcement agencies in the state that are members of the CALEA club.
Capt. Mark England spends roughly half his time as patrol commander of the 49-member department and the other half overseeing CALEA compliance, which is reviewed on a regular basis.
“It's definitely worth it,” says Desmarais. “You are asked to meet certain standards whether by policy or by contract or state law or local town ordinance and you need to show you're department has the best policies and practices out there.”
Desmarais says accreditation is good for department morale and reputation, perks that rub off on the overall quality of life in the town. Also, departments with accreditation tend to be less vulnerable to police-involved civil litigation, which saves money in the long run, he said.
Pawtucket, Bristol, Warwick and Smithfield have the only other CALEA-accredited municipal law enforcement agencies in the state, along with the Brown University Campus Police and the state police, said Desmarais.
CALEA was was created in 1979 as a credentialing authority through the joint efforts of law enforcement's major executive associations, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP); National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE); National Sheriffs' Association (NSA); and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).
In these daunting economic times, Carey says he and other police chiefs in the state have already begun exploring a less onerous path to accreditation.
Carey says he is a member of a subcommittee of the Rhode Island Association of Chiefs of Police that is exploring the concept of state accreditation. They have been discussing the idea of creating a new state agency that would embrace all the standards now promulgated by CALEA – and then some.
The goal is to make it less costly to achieve the same level of recognition offered by CALEA, said Carey. The initiative has largely been championed by Middletown Police Chief Anthony M. Pesare, a former state policeman, Carey said.
“You could be better off with state accreditation than CALEA,” said Carey. “Depending on the financial situation, I would do both.”