The University Police Department underwent an on-site review by a national accreditation group earlier this month and will find out in March if it meets the requirements to become an accredited law enforcement agency.
If accredited, UPD will join the group of less than 1 percent of campus police departments that are nationally recognized by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, a voluntary accreditation agency that assesses law enforcement agencies of all levels. CALEA program manager Steve Mitchell said that the University must comply with at least 450 challenging standards to meet accreditation requirements.
Representatives from CALEA reviewed GW’s police department for a few days earlier this month, Mitchell said.
“It’s a very similar process to a university or hospital being accredited,” Mitchell said. “It’s a thorough process and normally a department spends about two or three years doing self-assessment making sure it meets the rigorous standards required by CALEA.”
UPD Chief Dolores Stafford said the department will face its final interview with CALEA in Jacksonville, Fla., at CALEA’s conference, from March 22 to 25. At the conference, UPD will be notified whether it met the requirements for the accreditation. Stafford said the on-site review that took place earlier this month was a critical aspect of the accreditation.
“A significant amount of time has been spent, over the past four years, preparing the department for the initial on-site assessment,” Stafford wrote in an e-mail last week. “We spent time developing and revising policies, procedures and practices, as well as improving our equipment and facilities, to bring everything into compliance with the national standards.”
Stafford said that through the accreditation process UPD hopes to achieve several goals, including a formalization of management procedures and an improvement in inter-agency communication. Stafford added that accreditation would give UPD the ability to increase its standing within the law enforcement community and be able to better recruit top-notch officers.
As part of the on-site review, UPD hosted a public information session in the Marvin Center Jan. 9 where students and Foggy Bottom residents were invited to offer comments to the CALEA assessment team.
“The CALEA staff assessors are interested in others’ perspective on our department and our relationships with the community,” Stafford wrote. “They wanted to hear about our relationships with The George Washington University community, and the surrounding Foggy Bottom neighborhood.”
Mitchell said he still encourages students and members of the surrounding community to contact CALEA with comments about the GW police department.
“The decision over the department’s accreditation will not be made until late March, so we would still like to hear from anyone on campus,” he said.
Once accredited, departments are expected to remain in compliance with the standards set by CALEA, and the department must repeat the process every three years to continue accredited status in the future, Mitchell said.
Georgetown University’s Department of Public Safety was the first accredited campus law enforcement agency in the city and has been accredited by CALEA since March 1994. The University of Maryland at College Park Department of Public Safety is also accredited by CALEA.
“Being accredited by CALEA helps set a very high standard for work,” said Major Cathy Atwell, operations bureau commander for the University of Maryland Police Department. “Before the department went under self-assessment for CALEA, we didn’t have bulletproof vests. Since bulletproof vests are required by CALEA standards, we had a greater incentive to pay for them. This is an example of how CALEA directs professional standards.”
The University of Delaware Department of Public Safety is another one of the few university police departments accredited by CALEA. Lt. Thomas Rahmer, an administrative officer, said that Delaware is going through a similar process of renewing and reviewing general orders.
Rahmer said, “The standards set by CALEA cover everything that a department would be involved in and make the department much stronger.”