I worked most of last week for the City of Auburndale. On Gulfport’s dime. Yes, that’s correct, but before you call for my termination, let me explain.
Since 2000, the Gulfport Police Department has been an accredited law enforcement agency. For most of that time, I have been serving as an assessor for the accreditation commission. That means that, once or twice a year, I go to other agencies and work as part of a team of three who conduct an in-depth review to ensure that policies and operations are in line with industry best practices.
The assessment team evaluates compliance with hundreds of standards covering everything from employment and discipline practices to evidence collection and storage. Typically, the agency being evaluated pays for lodging and per diem, while the assessor’s employing agency pays the salary during the time of the assessment. This is a mutual arrangement in that, when GPD is up for review, we get our assessors the same way.
To be clear, there is no obligation for Gulfport to provide assessors to other agencies; it’s a completely voluntary move on our part, and we would get our assessors even if we didn’t return the favor. So why do it? Well, other than the fact that it’s the right thing to do, there are tremendous operational benefits. Every time I return from an assessment, I have a list in hand of things I want to look at back home. The diversity of people and places in this state mean that there are many, many variations on how to get the job done. If I were to rely solely on my own experiences here in Gulfport, I would be severely limiting my opportunities.
In this case, for example, I am “stealing” from Auburndale their forms for documenting employee orientation and for providing notice to an employee about an internal affairs investigation. Theirs are the best I’ve seen in my years of doing assessments, and I want to use them to improve our own processes.
I do not limit this exposure to my own office. To ensure that this kind of knowledge reaches our police department on a broader level, I require that both of my lieutenants serve as accreditation assessors as well. Between the three of us, we visit between five and six other law enforcement agencies every year. This keeps us up to speed on how things are being done around the state, and it opens up contacts and resources that prove beneficial on a regular basis.
Accreditation is a tremendously valuable program in other ways as well. Some have argued against it, suggesting that a good police administrator could do the same things without the fancy name and expense. I suppose there is some truth to this. I could simply tell you that GPD is a professional agency with up-to-date policies, well-trained personnel, and procedures for accountability. Or, you could hear it from an independent team of experts whose report is vetted publicly by a commission of government executives. No matter the perspective, there is much more value in the latter of these two alternatives.
The accreditation process also establishes a very good system of checklists and reminders that make it much easier for me to ensure that we are doing things the right way. Without them, I would need extra staff to develop and keep track of audits, inspections, personnel actions, and litany of other behind-the-scenes activities that ensure you, the citizens, are getting the best service possible for the least possible cost.
Gulfport just completed an assessment earlier this year, and we were awarded our fourth reaccreditation certificate. We will be assessed again in February of 2015. When that time comes, if we prove once again that we have complied with the standards and our policies, GPD will become one of a very few in the state recognized as an “excelsior” law enforcement agency. To qualify, an agency must be reaccredited five consecutive times without conditions. Such recognition is the result of no less than sixteen years’ work and commitment to professionalism.
We will be working hard toward achieving this goal in 2015. In the mean time, please let me know of your thoughts on the accreditation process and what it means to you.