Accreditation puts Tacoma in top echelon of police departments

She was the self-anointed nag of the Tacoma Police Department.

For five years, Sgt. Jennifer Kramer came calling with an affable smile but was a stickler for rules, deadlines and progress reports. Her title of accreditation manager belied the tedium of the job: gathering proof that shows the department meets more than 400 policy standards and cramming them into 13 reports.

Kramer slept with a notebook beside her bed because she sometimes awoke in the middle of the night, remembering some detail she needed to track down. Her to-do list was printed on paper that covered the back wall of her office and boasted frighteningly few red check marks.

It was all in the name of maintaining accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, better known as CALEA. The agency is considered the upper echelon of police accreditation, with only 2 to 4 percent of law enforcement departments nationwide meeting the standard.

The Tacoma Police Department was granted accreditation in November 2010 and passed its first re-accreditation in November 2013. That, officials said, was tougher than the first go-round but even more important.

“We wanted to instill confidence within our community and within our department that we are meeting nationally set standards of excellence in police,” Police Chief Don Ramsdell said. “It really forces us to be in compliance with our own policies and prove that we’re doing what we say we’re doing.”

Tacoma is one of eight law enforcement agencies in the state that are accredited by CALEA. The others are the Washington State Patrol, the King County and Clark County sheriff’s offices and the Federal Way, Bellevue, Port of Seattle and University of Washington police departments.

About 1,000 agencies, most of them on the East Coast, are accredited.

“Those agencies that enroll are the trendsetters,” said Mark Mosier, the CALEA program manager for Pacific Northwest. “They see value in it, they voluntarily enroll in it, and they let the process keep their department up to date and in the 21st century.”

There are perks to the accreditation. It helped sworn Tacoma police officers receive a 2 percent raise through a deal with their union and it can lower insurance rates for the city. It also is believed to reduce the number of lawsuits against the department because it can substantiate its policies and procedures.

Agencies must provide proof of meeting 188 main standards, but when you add in the bulleted standards the number is more than 400. They cover a range of issues, such as records, search and seizure, missing people, field-training programs for new recruits, how to handle juvenile offenders and how to transport detainees.

“I would challenge somebody to come up with a topic CALEA doesn’t have a policy for dealing with,” Kramer said.

An accreditation team does an on-site inspection every three years. In the years in between, the agency sends regular reports to show it is maintaining standards. The reports cover everything from a use-of-force analysis to a recruitment plan.

During the re-accreditation in November, Kramer said, CALEA personnel were impressed with the department’s new crime-forecasting software and suggested it organize new in-service training refresher courses for field-training officers.

“That’s the value of the accreditation,” she said. “It puts in place so many checks and balances.”

The cost of CALEA accreditation ranges from $7,125 to $18,600, depending on the size of the agency.

Ramsdell said he’s committed to the program and plans to keep Tacoma among those accredited.

For her part, Kramer said she believes in CALEA but is ready to trade in her lengthy to-do lists for a squad car.

She returned to patrol last week.