Police Expect National Accreditation By Spring
The Fair Lawn Police Department is on track to receive its long sought after accreditation status in the next month or two.
Following a smooth visit earlier this month by an accreditation assessment team, Lt. Ron Patterson said he was confident the Fair Lawn Police Department would shortly receive its long-sought after accreditation status.
Patterson, who has spent the past two years fine tuning the department's policies and procedures to conform with the best police practices in New Jersey, said assessors from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement told him the department fared very well in its on-site assessment on March 3 and 4, and should be accredited officially by April or May.
"It was a long endeavor and I’m glad we’ve reached the summit, so to speak, and we’re there," Patterson said last week. "It looks like we’re going to be okay."
To achieve accreditation status, the department had to professionalize its procedures by incorporating more than 300 standards and sub-standards into its own policies.
"That’s really what accreditation is about — getting everybody on the same page in the department, so there’s no real gray areas," Patterson said. "There’s still room for officer discretion, but certain procedures have to be followed. You don’t want to have one shift doing it one way, another shift doing it a second way and another shift doing it a third way."
Patterson gave the example of officers checking the backseat of their vehicle for contraband before and after a detainee is escorted.
"That was something that we did sort of in the past from time to time, but it wasn’t’ something that was mandated," he said. "Now it’s mandated for an officer to follow that."
In addition to making officers more accountable for their actions, accreditation also confers upon the department an insurance discount and acts as a protective barrier against risk and liability in civil litgation.
"If we follow the best police procedures and incorporate it into the reports," Patterson said, "the chances of us being held liable in the court of law diminish greatly."
Patterson worked with the Rodgers Group, an accreditation consultant, to ensure the necessary standards were properly implemented.
He said the consultant would send him a policy that he'd review and tweak based on Fair Lawn's current practices, before sending it up the chain of command to get the chief and captain's input. Once the chief and captain picked through the policy, he'd return it to the Rodgers Group for final approval.
Patterson said a typical policy might go through 10 to 15 revisions before being put out, hence the two-year preparation period.
In fact, the drawn-out process kept the department from completing accreditation in the past.
"Our department, I know, had attempted this in the past with various personnel, but it never really came to fruition," Patterson said. "It always seems to have fallen by the wayside after it was enacted."
He credited the Rodgers Group for helping the borough stay the course through the accreditation process this time.
"The Rodgers Group was significant in helping us attain the accreditation status that we're going for," he said. "They have policy writers who are subject matter experts in a particular field and they work with your agency to make sure that those particular policies are correctly implemented within your department."
Once Fair Lawn receives its accreditation status, the department's accreditation manager will be required to ensure best practices are kept current and that the department's officers are actually following the new and updated best practices.
In three years, assessors will return for another on-site check and review the department's proofs and files, Patterson said.