When Paul Ominsky is asked what the future might hold for campus security, law enforcement accreditation comes to his mind first. With a 35-year span in this field, Ominsky can easily cite benefits of being accredited, such as that it raises a department's external credibility, helps clarify procedures, and enhances working relationships with state and municipal peers.
"When you are accredited, it means that you are doing the law enforcement part of your job at a very high level," says Ominsky, who recently became Princeton's director of public safety, after serving as director of public safety for Mount Holyoke, Smith and Hampshire colleges (Mass.).
The step-by-step process for accreditation is quite rigorous, as campus police and public safety departments voluntarily re-examine and adapt procedures to comply with standards while providing documentation showing progress. When the department is ready, assessors are called in to conduct an onsite evaluation and create a report used by the accreditation commission to make a decision.
Whether the accrediting body is a state agency or a national association, more campus police and public safety departments are pursuing accreditation —which is based on overall operations for meeting law enforcement standards. Accreditation helps campus security departments to better manage risks, emphasize greater evidence collection and report writing, and clarify job responsibilities.
With multiple accreditation avenues, the decision to undergo the process also involves determining how.
Two national associations - the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) and the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) - offer three-year accreditations. Depending on the institution, colleges and universities can obtain the status from one or both.
Since the Virginia Tech tragedy three years ago, CALEA has seen a slight rise in campus police departments' interest in accreditation processes among institutions with sworn law enforcement officers, according to Associate Director Jim Brown. CALEA first awarded accreditation to university police in March 1986. "Accreditation is pretty well understood by the university community; it's part of their academic environment," says Brown, who describes the process as a self-check to answer the question, "Are we prepared?"
As of March, CALEA had just over 75 institutions enrolled in the accreditation process; another 28 are in self-assessment, and 48 others have been awarded. Brown says what appears to interest campus police departments about CALEA's accreditation program is that it's designed to meet "the expectations of everyone concerned with the law enforcement function on a public or private campus." It's not just police chiefs and safety directors who have a stake in keeping things safe and ensuring officers are doing their jobs well. Presidents and chancellors, for example, will find themselves responding to inquiries from parents and the media about police actions.
One of five university law enforcement agencies accredited in its state, the University of North Texas Police Department earned its initial CALEA accreditation in November 2006, and renewed it in November 2009. The department also has IACLEA accreditation, first awarded in May 2007 and then renewed in November.
Why both? "We believed it appropriate to achieve CALEA accreditation as a law enforcement agency and to add IACLEA accreditation to demonstrate compliance with those additional standards which relate to colleges and universities only," says Chief of Police Richard Deter. "Our goal was to verify that our internal policies, procedures, services, and programs were consistent with best practices in both the law enforcement and college- and university-specific environments." For example, IACLEA security standards have campus escort program and emergency phone requirements.
The 85-member department, which has 46 sworn personnel, is now stronger in many ways. There's a regular system for reviewing departmental units (e.g., patrol officers or communications personnel) to ensure they're complying with their specific standard operations, for one. Another boost has been in putting in place a more effective policy for the department's incident command system.
"It provided me, as chief, with a process that was clear and straightforward for revising and developing polices, monitoring compliance with those policies, and ensuring that we were regularly soliciting feedback from the community to make sure we were meeting needs," says Deter.
The eligibility requirements for IACLEA's accreditation program are more open, since it welcomes public safety agencies with either sworn or unsworn officers. As a clearinghouse for information and issues shared by campus public safety directors, IACLEA developed higher education-specific accreditation standards. They address directives in the Jeanne Clery Act such as crime reporting and preparing an annual campus security report. As of press time, about 20 campus agencies are under contract with IACLEA for full accreditation.
John Leonard, director of accreditation for the association, explains that the program offers campus safety departments "the opportunity to achieve the same level of professional accomplishment as their sworn counterparts."
Wake Forest University (N.C.) Police Department was one of four pilot agencies to test IACLEA's accreditation program in April 2008. The university was awarded IACLEA accreditation a month later. Prior to that association program being available, the department - which consists of 58 staff members (including 19 full-time and 10 part-time sworn officers and 24 security officers, along with office personnel) had been considering pursuing CALEA accreditation.
Chief of Police Regina Lawson gained buy-in from her staff by explaining the benefits of IACLEA accreditation to both the entire department and individual officers. Getting support - from university officials as well as the department - was a must because the process requires input and assistance from so many people. "We broke the process down into smaller parts and pieces," says Lawson, citing investigations and communications procedures as examples. "As we began to accomplish things, you could really see progress."
During the self-assessment stage, PowerDMS, a web-based policy manual software from Innovative Data Solutions, was implemented to help maintain departmental updates. It allowed officers to read and review updated directives and be tested on them online, as opposed to having to flip through a binder of printed materials.
The department made changes in the process of selecting, hiring, and promoting employees, as well as in handling case managements and investigation follow-ups. "It puts you in a position [of] looking at how you're doing things more deliberately and more critically in order to find ways to do it uniformly," says Lawson.
To help financially prepare for the accreditation process, Lawson's department divided up the costs of accreditation into two fiscal years, paying some of the accreditation fees up front and then paying the fees for assessor site visits out of a different budget. "Spreading the money out allowed us not to have such a financial hit," she adds. "We've already prepared for our budget for the re-accreditation site visit."
Another accreditation option may be close to home. These states' accreditation commissions include campus agencies:
- Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey in the northeast
- Virginia, North and South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida in the south
- Texas in the southwest
- Indiana in the midwest
- California in the west
Having lower costs and including standards that apply to state law, these commissions encourage discussion and support between agencies. In January 2005, the Public Safety Department at Mount Holyoke was awarded accreditation status from the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission. At the time, Holyoke was the first higher education institution in the Commonwealth to do so.
"Being accredited by the state was important to us," recalls Ominsky, "so that we [maintained] good relationships with our municipal partners and that they understood we were doing a great job with the way that we were doing our work on our campuses."
The month before, the department had undergone a two-day assessment by a team of commission-appointed assessors, who found it to be in compliance with all 103 mandatory standards.
"Accreditation was really good for our department because it really forced us to rethink how we were doing the work," recalls Ominsky. After getting input from administrators across campus, he and his Mount Holyoke colleagues drafted a set of written policies covering how the department was going to work.
Another institution taking early action in getting a state accreditation was Duquesne University (Pa.). Its Public Safety Department earned a three-year accreditation from the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association in 2009. They were the third university in the state to do so, joining Lehigh and Carnegie Mellon.
Director Jim Caputo explains that his department's choice to initiate the accreditation process in 2007 was because it was affordable (current enrollment fees are $250), and then there was a belief that holding state, rather than national, accreditation would be more recognizable to potential students and their parents.
Lieutenant Michael Sippey, who served as accreditation manager, says the process helped the department's 29 officers better enhance their methods for evidence control by defining what personnel were permanent evidence custodians as well as straightening up policies for temporary evidence. "We had a system that worked, but it wasn't foolproof; now we have tightened that up," he explains.
Yet there's always more to improve upon. Sippey's department also belongs to a paid membership support group that meets regularly with other Pennsylvania association members to go over questions or issues about standards.
There are several factors to consider regarding getting accredited. Cost is a big one. With CALEA, the price tag is based on the number of full-time law enforcement personnel. Categories and fees for an initial accreditation can start at $5,425. An additional onsite fee is estimated at $7,500. When departments are up for re-accreditation, less time and resources are typically needed, and the costs are reduced by about 40 percent, according to Brown.
For IACLEA, there's a $350 application fee, which may be applied to the department's accreditation fee if a promise is made, via contract, to undertake accreditation within a six month-period. Program fees are based on student enrollment. IACLEA offers three separate options of payment, including installment plans, Leonard says. Assessment fees are estimated to be around $6,500.
Accrediting commissions continually review their processes to keep them current. CALEA is in the process of developing more specific standards for college and university police departments and an accreditation program for college/university security departments that have unsworn officers. "There are a lot of unsworn security professionals doing good work on campuses and we believe our new program will increase preparedness, result in greater security effectiveness, and increase services to the university community," Brown explains.
IACLEA offers a program of joint accreditation with CALEA, which accelerates the process for campus law enforcement agencies that already have earned accreditation from the latter. Seventeen police departments have pursued the CALEA/IACLEA program.
"We encourage departments involved in our process to contact and become engaged with departments in the CALEA program as well as the programs in the state," Leonard says. "The goal is the same among all of the programs, and that is to enhance the public safety services for the benefit of the agency."
With the goal of enhancing campus safety being prevalent in higher ed, the future of accreditation for campus law enforcement has much promise. Lawson sums it up like this: "It's getting that stamp of approval that you are doing things in line with industry standards and best practices."