Dade City police still seek accreditation
DADE CITY - After several years of on-again, off-again work, state accreditation still eludes the Dade City Police Department. Give the department a couple of more years, said administrative Sgt. Jim Walters, and it should be a different story. "We're close," Walters said. "There's no reason we shouldn't be accredited by July 2012, July 2013 at the latest." Law enforcement accreditation is similar to that of colleges or universities — it means an agency has met and abides by standards set by an oversight committee. Think of it as a seal of approval on how an agency operates."It means you're meeting standards and doing things the right way," Walters said. In the world of law enforcement, there is national accreditation and a state option. Dade City is aiming for the state credential, handled by the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation. No law enforcement agency in Pasco County holds the state credential. The commission has 253 standards for everything from training to recruitment and discipline. An agency must meet 149 mandatory standards and 80 percent of 104 nonmandatory standards, said Dean Register, assistant inspector general at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Depending on an agency's size and function, not all of the standards are applicable, however. The commission doesn't create specific policies and procedures that accredited agencies must follow, but it requires a department to set policies for a litany of situations. "One is to ensure that if we have backup generators, they're protected from sabotage," Walters said, shortly before pointing out the fence and barbed wire that protect the Dade City department's generators. "It doesn't tell you exactly how to do that, but you have to show you've taken extra steps." The accreditation process officially begins when an agency signs a contract with the commission, which Dade City has not yet done. The agency then has two years to prepare for an evaluation by law enforcement volunteers, who make a recommendation to the commission. "Initially, many officers don't understand the importance," Scott said. "One of the benefits is you're now in a realm with other law enforcement organizations that are meeting statewide standards," he said. "It also limits the liability for the agency and the officer. When lawsuits come through, it has a tendency to shield from liability and culpability." Walters noted a number of changes or additions Dade City has made as it works toward accreditation, including: a gun locker; a dedicated area for blood-alcohol tests; a video surveillance system; and technology that allows dispatchers to instantly play back a call. The evidence box and evidence refrigerator also have been bolted to the floor, and the refrigerator's plug is protected from tampering. Most importantly, Walters said, the department in April hired Brian Uppercue, a former major with the Baltimore County (Md.) Police Department. When he completes his training, Uppercue will focus much of his time on the accreditation effort. "The issue is dedicating hours to it," Walters said. "In a small agency, we're jacks of all trades and multitaskers." Despite the progress, there's much work to be done. "We have to have documentation in place. We can't just say we're going to do something a certain way, we have to prove it," Walters said. Space is a recurring topic in the accreditation discussions. The Dade City department has about 40 employees, including 24 full-time sworn officers. Police Chief Ray Velboom said the department would benefit from having one large area for evidence and property storage. Also, a more modern area is needed for dispatchers, complete with a bathroom and break room. Accreditation doesn't require such upgrades, but improved facilities would make it easier to achieve other standards set by the state commission. For example, having one evidence area would ease organization, Velboom said. Another infrastructure issue is holding cells. Accreditation requires the sight and sound separation of different categories of inmates, such as males and females, juveniles and adults, and co-defendants. In Dade City, inmates can hear each other through the wall separating the two holding cells. Velboom said the department needs two more cells. At a June budget workshop, city commissioners floated the idea of using temporary buildings at the police department to solve some space issues. At one time, the city hoped to build a new police station, but budget constraints mean that's on hold. "I want a new police station as much as the next guy, but I want the accreditation even more," Commissioner Curtis Beebe said. Velboom said the work involved in accreditation will be worth it. "It will be a point of pride for the men and women who work here to have those stickers on their cars that say we're an accredited agency," he said. Scott, the consultant, said the real work begins once accreditation is earned. Three years after an agency becomes accredited, assessors again do a thorough inspection. "Agencies have to show three years of compliance," Scott said. "Agencies are sometimes not aware of the diligence it takes to maintain accreditation."
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