TIVERTON — A long-term transformation of the Tiverton Police Department is underway. It’s called accreditation, and for the town and department it’s a first-time experience.
The whole complicated process will conclude about 18-24 months from now, sometime in 2014-2015, said Captain Patrick Jones.
The move towards accreditation has been signaled in recent months by the promotion last fall, announced in December, of a dozen police officers.
The promotions were coupled with a departmental restructuring, which among other effects, involved the creation of the position of administrative officer, filled by Lieutenant Timothy Panell.
“That’s a position we’ve never had before,” said Town Administrator James Goncalo.
The restructuring came up during recent contract negotiations the town had with the police union, Mr. Goncalo said. One of its purposes, and that of the promotions, he said, “was to make the Tiverton Police Department compatible with other departments in the state. Our structure had never been reviewed,” he said.
“The promotions [last fall] cost the town nothing,” Mr. Goncalo said. The officers themselves, he said, paid for their uniform changes, the stripes, patches, and bars.
Captain Jones said that during negotiations it was learned that Tiverton police “were approximately in the middle” in their pay levels compared with other towns. The purpose of the promotions “was not to get the pay but to get the rank and responsibilities, and then to worry about what comes later if accreditation results.”
Captain Jones said that “if the rank restructuring proves beneficial to the community, then in the future, I’m sure, like any organization or business, a discussion about a raise would be appropriate.”
The departmental restructuring provides “a more effective and efficient span of control for supervisory level officers and their subordinates,” Captain Jones said.
Among Lt. Panell’s duties as the new administrative officer is the responsibility for managing the accreditation effort, said Captain Jones. (He also will be coordinating the police department’s computer system.)
The most visible, and personal, step taken so far has been the swearing-in ceremony for 13 officers that took place in Town Hall late in February, before an audience that included the officers’ families.
“I was very pleased the way the ceremony went, and was happy to see town council members there,” said Tiverton Police Chief Thomas Blakey . “There was about 170 total years of service represented by all the officers in the room that night. The families were there and it was good to see the officers’ work appreciated and supported.”
The new ranks, and promotions, “were created to allow the police department to be in line with modern law enforcement agencies and to continue to move the department towards achieving accreditation,” Chief Blakey said.
Accreditation has both a national and a state level dimension. Nationally, recognized standards of excellence have been set forth by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA).
At the state level, the Rhode island Police Chief’s Association has taken the lead, and in recent years created an in-state accreditation commission, or RI-PAC (the Rhode Island Police Accreditation Commission).
Rapidly evolving police practices coupled with technology and modern life have required the development of “best practices” and common standards. Captain Jones gave as an example the use of tasers.
“A lot of what we do is not knowing what the day is going to bring you,” he said. “Accreditation gives you the ability to anticipate and deal with recurring situations.”
Another example is the need for a policy regarding social media. Not so much the use of media in enforcement, but the use of social media by police officers and their families. “There will be strict rules we’ll hold our officers accountable to.”
Nine police agencies in the state have achieved CALEA accreditation so far: Middletown, Providence, Bristol, Cranston, Cumberland, Smithfield, Warwick, the Rhode Island State Police, and the Brown University Department of Public Safety.
Tiverton and about 42 other police departments in the state are seeking state level accreditation through RI-PAC, which as an organization, said Captain Jones, “is just getting off the ground.” He said Tiverton has indicated its interest to RI-PAC but has not yet formally filed.
“There are 12-15 standards that are unique to Rhode Island,” said Captain Jones, “which all Rhode Island police agencies must comply with. But there are also national boilerplate standards.”
CALEA accreditation emphasizes such matters as uniform written directives, fact-based management decisions, preparedness programs, methods for maintaining community relations, and accountability.
One major outcome of accreditation, CALEA says, is that it can limit a police department’s liability and risk-exposure. “This could possibly impact liability insurance rates and coverage,” said Captain Jones.
State accreditation under RI-PAC focuses on achieving compliance with a more state-specific set of standard operating procedures and policies. These for example include, says RI-PAC, the use of force, high speed pursuits, impartial policing standards, the use of vests, and the process for inspecting equipment.
Already the Tiverton department has updated its rules and regulations, and begun to rewrite its standard operating policies and procedures.We are looking at best practices, said Captain Jones. “All officers will comport with what are the best practices across the country when it comes to law enforcement. There will be an SOP for everything that each department handles,” based on what’s acceptable nationwide.
As a result of the accreditation process, said Captain Jones, “I definitely believe citizens in town will have a police department that is recognized at the state level for excellence and that will be of interest to future residents, who will want to know about crime rates in town and policing standards. It is giving us the recognition at the state level that citizens have come to expect.”