In case you didn’t know, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in Florida received a “Flagship Agency” certification from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies during one of their “tri-annual re-accreditation ceremonies in Salt Lake City, Utah this month. The Lake Wales News reports that this is the sixth time the agency was re-accredited and that this accolade demonstrates the agency is “the best of the best”.
For those who might scratching their heads right now… yes, this is the same Polk County Sheriff’s department that brought the world this video just two months ago:
The above video played on news reports around the world and shows several Polk County deputies playing Wii Sports while they were supposed to be conducting a thorough search of a suspected drug dealer’s residence. The seven officers involved received a disciplinary sentence of about 2-4 hours worth of “retraining”.
For those curious about what kind of professional standards body would consider this as a sign of excellence, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Incorporated (CALEA) was created in 1979 as a credentialing authority by a joint effort of several law enforcement organizations and lobbyists like the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Sheriff’s Association. Today, a CALEA accreditation is one of the most sought-after credentials for police departments in the US and one of the most frequently cited as well.
CALEA’s stated goals purport to improve the delivery of public service by maintaining a body of standards and administering accreditation in recognition of professional excellence. But, with awards like those for Polk County, some might wonder what this means in terms of police accountability and police misconduct?
Well, among CALEA’s selling points is that an accreditation through their company can strengthen an agency’s accountability and limit an agency’s liability and risk exposure, which in turn would improve community relations and trust towards an agency that held this accreditation.
As offered proof of this, the CALEA Web site has a list of testimonials from participating agencies in which some claim that, because of this accreditation, they were able to head off costly civil rights litigation, reduce the insurance premiums they pay to cover civil rights complaints, and reduce the number of complaints made against that agency’s officers.
It certainly sounds like a reasonable claim since an adopted standardized set of policies and procedures that dictate proper behavior for employees and a set of acknowledged consequences for violations along with a set standard for investigating allegations of policy violations should accomplish improved accountability and professionalism.
But does it work in practice, especially when accreditation is a voluntary process and one which an agency apparently only need follow the letter of the recommended process and not the spirit of the process and one which we, the people, aren’t really made privy to what these actual recommendations detail?
In order to try and make a determination on how a CALEA accreditation might affect participating law enforcement agencies in the real world we took a look at what agencies currently hold a CALEA accreditation and compared that list with our National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project (NPMSRP) statistics for agencies of similar size to see how CALEA agencies stack up against the norm.
By using the 6 month aggregate NPMSRP report issued in October and sorting a list of CALEA accredited agencies of at least 300 sworn employees with a total list of all agencies that number at least 300 employees as well as the total aggregate police misconduct rate nationally we find that CALEA agencies have more misconduct issues reported than the average.
- National average of all agencies – 834.69 per 100k
- Average for all agencies 300+ – 963.3 per 100k
- Average for all CALEA agencies 300+ – 1164.97 per 100k
So, at first glance, it would appear that CALEA accredited agencies don’t fare any better than average when compared to other similarly-sized agencies nationally or to the national average itself. In fact, they appear to have higher police misconduct rates than the norm in both cases.
When we look at how likely it is that the difference is caused by more transparency about misconduct in CALEA agencies we can turn to the numbers again and look at the deviations between agencies to see if there are any wide variation between agencies or if the numbers for each agency are similar.
For CALEA agencies the median police misconduct rate of the 121 agencies listed is 785.24, which indicates that there is a pretty wide variation in range with more than half of the agencies reporting lower than average misconduct rates with a misconduct rate range between 0 and 10,000. If the higher average were a matter of more transparency in CALEA accredited agencies, we would see the median more aligned with the average and less variations between agencies.
In fact, it’s notable is that 25 of the CALEA agencies reported 0 cases in the last 6 months, including two agencies that have over 1,000 employees. Now, given that the average would be for there to be at least 8 officers out of 1,000 reported for misconduct, this is more indicative of under-reporting for those agencies than it is that these 0 report agencies are doing better than average for police misconduct.
In other words, the data does not indicate that CALEA agencies, as a whole, do any better with police transparency than average.
Of course, in CALEA’s defense, sometimes police departments can try to do everything right to deal with police misconduct but end up stymied by state legislation or a local government’s collective bargaining agreement with police unions that override a department’s disciplinary capabilities.
Also, the results of a standardized set of accountability and disciplinary protocols will largely depend on why a department’s leadership adopts those policies, after all, it’s still up to management to follow through or ignore their own policies.
But, regardless of the reasons, the results do appear to show that voluntary accreditation in and of itself does not make a police department more accountable to the people it serves.
Police Misconduct Rates for CALEA Agencies with over 300 employees
Note: PMR is the police misconduct rate per 100,ooo sworn law enforcement officers based on the number of officers cited in cases of misconduct within the specified reporting period.
|Anne Arundel County||MD||626.96|
|El Paso County||TX||843.88|
|El Paso County||CO||440.53|
|Indian River County||FL||2970.30|
|New Castle County||DE||0.00|
|Prince George’s County||MD||1329.79|
|Prince William County||VA||1084.99|
|St. Johns County||FL||1459.85|
|St. Louis County||MO||0.00|
|West Palm Beach||FL||3960.40|
|National Average 300+||963.30|