The Hoquiam Police Department has re-written the rules — literally — in its seven-year trek to accreditation from the Washington Association of Police Chiefs and Sheriffs. The intensive process certifies a law enforcement agency is meeting the highest standards of the industry, and last week the department announced it had earned the honor.
“This is a pretty big deal, and you should be really proud of them,” WASPC Professional Services Program Manager Mike Painter told the Hoquiam City Council Dec. 9. “The Hoquiam Police Department has worked really hard to get here.”
Chief Jeff Myers said the department has re-written its policies and procedures, upgraded its evidence room, implemented an officer review process and begun issuing numerous annual reports in order to comply with 132 separate standards governing use of force, evidence handling and more.
“It’s like a spider web,” he said. “There’s lots of standards that touch other things. It’s very seldom you have to change only one thing.”
Of the 300 law enforcement agencies in Washington, only 55 have earned WASPC accreditation. Hoquiam was among only four agencies this year who didn’t have any deficiencies to correct after its inspection.
“It’s about an agency that has made a commitment to practice best practices in our industry,” Painter explained. “It’s about accountability within the organization, because for a police department or sheriff’s office to become accredited, it takes a lot of work. The hard part is to get accredited, the harder part is to get re-accredited four years from now.”
“We perhaps could have gotten by without accreditation, but that’s not what we’re about. We want to meet or exceed best practicies as a law enforcment agency,” Myers said.
Maintaining the certification requires another intensive review process in four years, this time scrutinizing whether the policies, procedures and reports are all being done as they should.
The Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Office is also WASPC accredited, and Chief Civil Deputy Judy Mawhorter served as a mentor to HPD through the process.
The Sheriff’s Office is also nationally accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement, a process that costs $20,000 to $30,000. The WASPC certification is much less expensive: the department pays a $100 application fee, then staff time and travel expenses for volunteers handling inspections and reviews. Myers said Friday the total cost to HPD was $692.48.
Myers, who serves as co-chair of the WASPC committee that oversees the accreditation standards, has volunteered as an inpsector himself for other agencies.
“That way we keep the cost down, so there’s never an excuse for an agency, regardless of size, to say, ‘We can’t afford that,’ ” Myers said.
“It’s fairly inexpensive, but the standards are high,” Sheriff Rick Scott said. “Both of them bring a lot of value to the plate. The state accreditation has by far been more useful to us as an organization.”
Myers said the accreditation provides an extra layer of accountability and will help ingrain the standards as part of the department’s culture.
“For me personally, I know the great work the folks are doing here at the police department. I hope that this is but a formal recognition of that every day. It’s also, for me as a chief, a commitment to the mayor and the council and the people I work with that we are going to follow the best practices in law enforcement and hold ourselves to the standards we set forth,” he said.
Painter said the accreditation is often referred to as an “insurance policy.” Scott agreed.
“I regularly have people try to sue the Sheriff’s Office for one thing or the other,” he said. “It helps us when we’re presenting our position to our counsel and sometimes the court to show that when we say we’re doing things right and we have the best policies, practices and procedures in place, it’s not just me saying that as the sheriff. I have people like Mike Painter and a host of accreditation folks who come in every four years and paw through my laundry … to see just what’s in it and how we do our jobs.”
Hoquiam Officer Phil High volunteered to spearhead the process on top of his regular duties and his work earning a master’s degree from Pennsylvania State University.
“He just waded in and got it done. I’m very proud of him and pleased he was able to focus our efforts and get it finished,” Myers said.
High was recognized at the Dec. 9 city council meeting with a Meritorius Service Award for his work on the department’s accreditation.
“He was surprised, we hadn’t warned him in advance,” Myers said with a laugh.
The award is for officers who contribute to “a more effective and efficient police department.”
In the award letter, Myers wrote: “When you agreed to this assignment, I am sure you had no idea what you were in for. Although we had been working toward state accreditation for several years, it took your dedication and hard work to bring it all together.”