American society is only becoming more litigious. When it comes to insuring a city, risk pools are aware of the disproportionately high losses associated with law enforcement operations.
Law enforcement related payouts are on the rise and are impacting cities of all sizes. In 2019, New York City paid out $175.9 million in civil judgments and claims for NYPD-related lawsuits (excluding settlements with the comptroller’s office). In the 2018–2019 fiscal year, 43.1% of lawsuits filed against the city of Los Angeles were related to their police department.
In the age of body worn cameras and cell phone video, law enforcement services are increasingly scrutinized by and visible to the public. John Rappaport, an assistant professor of law at the University of Chicago, was able to prove that the number of police misconduct claims have not increased, but the severity and number of payouts has grown exponentially in the last five to ten years.
In the midst of public outcry for police reform and re-allocation of police funding, it’s more important now than ever for law enforcement agencies to be able to prove compliance to best practices and federal, state, and local regulations.
How risk pools are addressing law enforcement related losses
Risk pools across the country have implemented various voluntary or mandatory programs as a way to reduce risk and losses. These risk pools are taking a proactive approach to loss avoidance and incentivizing agencies to implement sound policies, training, and practices.
In Georgia, the Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency (GIRMA) and the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police (GACP) worked together to create the Risk Reduction Certificate Program to mitigate potential liability. GIRMA identified activities most likely to result in legal settlements, and developed 26 policy directives to address 10 different areas of State and Federal legal requirements, including:
- Human Resources
- Property and Evidence
- Vehicle Operations
- Search and Seizure
- Mental health or Persons with Diminished Capacity
- Off-Duty and Extra-Duty Employment
- Other Equipment
- Use of Force
- Multi-Jurisdictional Task Forces
After completing the Certificate process, agencies can receive a reduction in their law enforcement liability premiums. They must renew their certificate every two years.
The Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority provides the Standard Grants & Certification and Accreditation Program to assist member agencies in their risk management efforts. These grants provide funding for technology tools shown to reduce risk, as well as funds to cover accreditation fees.
Olympus Insurance based in Utah has begun paying the accreditation fees as well as the cost of accreditation software for agencies. The Washington Cities Insurance Authority will pay for up to $1,000 worth of an agency’s accreditation fees. The Maine Municipal Association helps fund the state-level accreditation program, Maine Law Enforcement Accreditation Program (MLEAP), and offers a 15% discount to agencies that achieve MLEAP accreditation.
Fortunately, your risk pool doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to reducing law enforcement losses. As seen in the examples above, risk pools across the nation have found that short-term, proactive investment in agencies is cost effective and mitigates risk in the long run.
What did these risk pools do to mitigate risk and save money long term? One common action stands out. They invested, either directly or indirectly, in incentivizing agencies to seek law enforcement accreditation.
In this article we will explore what accreditation is and how risk pools can promote it to their members as an effective risk mitigation and loss prevention strategy.
What is accreditation?
Generally speaking, accreditation is a third-party attestation that an organization is qualified to perform a particular activity.
Accreditation is a systematic, internal review of policies, procedures, training, and operations – all of which are measured against an accrediting body’s standards manual to prove compliance. Agencies conduct self-assessments before their accrediting body assessors arrive for a formal, onsite assessment to validate compliance.
While accreditation is an ongoing, daily practice, the (re)accreditation process happens at regular intervals to verify an agency is maintaining compliance. Frequency varies between accrediting bodies and by industry.
Accreditation across industries
Hospitals and healthcare facilities across the United States are required to maintain accreditation in order to receive government funding (Medicare/Medicaid) for their services.
Colleges and universities obtain accreditation in order to participate in federal programs such as the Federal Student Financial Aid Program and to prove the quality of education they are providing.
Not only does accreditation come with financial incentives in many different industries, it helps improve an organization’s image and brand. Achieving accredited status says, “we have evaluated ourselves against a set of standards and have proven that we meet or exceed those standards.”
Accreditation in law enforcement
Law enforcement accreditation is a self-initiated, voluntary process where agencies operate within a specific set of state- and nationally-recognized standards or best practices within the industry. Accrediting bodies compile these best practices and regulations into standards manuals.
To maintain and prove compliance with these standards, agencies have to develop policies, training, and accountability for three things:
- High-liability areas (vehicle pursuits, vehicle operation, critical incident response, investigative techniques, use of force, etc.)
- Personnel management
- Evidence handling
Prior to 2020, there weren’t any laws or regulations mandating accreditation in law enforcement, and it’s estimated that only 3% of agencies have achieved accredited status.
Due to a number of high profile events and public calls for police reform, Connecticut, Oregon, and Florida recently passed legislation requiring agencies to obtain accreditation. In Oregon, this legislation only applies to agencies with 35+ sworn officers. According to BJS data, approximately 70% of law enforcement agencies in the United States have less than 25 sworn officers, which means laws designed for “larger” agencies does not impact the vast majority of departments across the county.
Currently, there are two international law enforcement accrediting bodies, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement (CALEA) and the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA). Additionally, 31 states have created their own state-level accrediting bodies.
While accreditation varies by program, many of them share the same key features:
- A compilation of standards based on federal and state law and industry best practices
- A self-assessment period where the agency compares their practices against the standards
- A comprehensive independent review of their policies and practices by the accrediting body (can be remote or part of the onsite visit)
- An onsite visit which includes interviews and tours of the agency
After achieving accredited status, agencies have to repeat this process on a recurring basis to maintain their accreditation. This process is referred to as reaccreditation.
Why is accreditation important?
Accreditation helps police departments operate more professionally, justify their operations, and promote trust in their community. Most accrediting programs require agencies to assess high-liability areas of their operations, provide officers more training, and hold officers accountable to policy and training compliance. Accreditation also promotes transparency and self-reflection within an agency, which fosters a culture of accountability. When an agency enrolls in an accreditation process they are committing to excellence in leadership, resource management, and delivery of services.
In April of 2021, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine spoke to MSNBC on the importance of accreditation for law enforcement. In this video, he talks about how lack of funding is a main reason so many agencies don’t prioritize it.
Benefits of accreditation
In a recent podcast, Ed Goodman, the accreditation manager of Buckeye Police Department noted that a large majority of the recommendations in The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing are already addressed with CALEA accreditation standards. That means every CALEA-accredited agency had already been adhering to many of those recommendations before the report was released, and didn’t have to scramble to implement them. This put those agencies in a proactive, rather than reactive, position.
Because accreditation is voluntary, it’s considered an achievement awarded to the best of the best. While the process of getting accredited is challenging, it is not impossible or beyond even the smallest agency’s reach. In today’s environment, lawsuits are no longer just a “big agency” problem.
Police accreditation and liability avoidance go hand-in-hand. The accrediting body’s standards provide a helpful framework for preventing unnecessary risk and ensuring compliance within a department.
The Orono, Maine Police Department, a 15-person agency, received full CALEA accreditation in March of 2017. Chief Josh Ewing says budgetary constraints had the potential to put his agency at risk prior to accreditation. Accreditation provided the accountability necessary for his department to avoid liability.
Build community trust
Chief Ewing also notes how accreditation strengthened his agency’s relationship with other areas of Orono’s government. “When the town council has questions about use of force, they appreciate that I can provide them the data because it’s a required part of accreditation,” he says. “They can get immediate feedback and allay their fears.”
By avoiding lawsuits associated with liability, agencies can also protect their reputation in the community. One benefit of accreditation is that it demonstrates an agency’s commitment to safety and professionalism across the board.
Accreditation helps agencies operate more professionally and become better prepared for potential lawsuits. In the event of a lawsuit, the first things a plaintiff’s attorney will ask for are documentation of the alleged incident, the policy in place, and proof the officer signed and was trained on the policy. If these documents are easily accessible – a core feature of many policy management solutions – it can save the agency a lawsuit.
Accreditation requires an agency to implement systems and processes that ensure all of the items requested by a plaintiff’s attorney are in place. Policy development, tracking officer acknowledgment of policies, and testing/training officers on critical policies are all part of the accreditation process. While this won’t stop the lawsuits from happening in the first place, it gives an agency the necessary tools to defend itself.
At the end of the day, the key benefit of accreditation is preventing costly lawsuits or settlements in the event of a claim.
Why risk pools should incentivize accreditation
Due to the comprehensive nature of the accreditation standards, law enforcement agencies are indirectly addressing the factors that will improve their defense in the event of a lawsuit. Here are three examples of risk pools that have seen supplementing accreditation pay off.
Rhode Island Interlocal Risk Management Trust
The Rhode Island Interlocal Risk Management Trust insures 32 police departments in Rhode Island. In July of 2019, they announced that any non-accredited member police departments were subject to deductible increases on all law enforcement liability claims, resulting in deductibles ranging from $25,000 to $75,000 per claim.
Russ Godin, Director of Claims, said, “Law enforcement liability represents the single greatest potential exposure, per claim, of all Trust lines of coverage.” But the Trust found that accreditation through the Rhode Island Police Accreditation Commission reduces the frequency and severity of claims, and therefore losses.
“Empirical data collected from other local governmental pools has demonstrated a statistical correlation between accreditation and loss reduction. It has clearly shown that accredited police departments have a professional police liability claim history that is lower in frequency and severity than non-accredited agencies.”
- The Rhode Island Interlocal Risk Management Trust
Delaware Valley Trusts (DViT)
Delaware Valley Trusts (DViT) – which provides property/liability, workers compensation, and health coverage for over 160 public entities in Pennsylvania and Delaware – determined several key factors that reduced law enforcement losses in the event of an incident, which include:
- High-quality policies
- Documentation that officers received and acknowledged the policies
- Documentation that officers were tested on and competent in the policies
- Achieving law enforcement accreditation
With this data in mind, DViT has provided their members with grants and partial funding to cover the cost of a policy management software subscription and a 10% discount on insurance for being accredited. Modern policy management software tools help agencies provide officers 24/7 digital access to policies, collect and track policy signatures, and allow the agency to test officers’ understanding of the content.
Some of the approved software solutions that DViT provides funding for have tools to help agencies achieve and maintain accreditation through the Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Accreditation Program (PLEAC) and CALEA.
The Kentucky League of Cities Insurance Services (KLCIS)
The Kentucky League of Cities Insurance Services (KLCIS) conducted an in-depth risk analysis
to find ways to reduce law enforcement liability, and concluded that accredited agencies were less likely to experience lawsuits, injuries, and loss. KLCIS incentivizes agencies to obtain accreditation through CALEA or the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police (KACP) by offering a 10% discount to all agencies that get accredited. Additionally, they offer a Safety Grant up to $3,000, which can be used to pay for accreditation fees.
“We believe accreditation is one important part of risk management that supports the three critical areas of risk management – leadership, training, and policies.”
– Mark Filburn, Loss Consultant, Kentucky League of Cities
As a result of this program, the KLCIS has seen 125 agencies accredited by KACP alone. Kentucky is among the top five states in terms of the number of accredited agencies. There is a strong correlation between their high number of accredited agencies and the drastic reduction in losses.
Next steps for your risk pool
More and more risk pools have started to incentivize law enforcement accreditation as part of their risk mitigation efforts. Quantifying ROI for this particular strategy may be challenging, given the reluctance of risk pools to share numbers, but it has been tested and proven effective. Here are some steps to take when deciding if it’s right for your pool.
Speak to accredited agencies and your state-level accrediting body (if applicable) to better understand the process. Many states post their accreditation standards online. Reading through the standards will provide your pool more context into what areas of operations the standards address.
Analyze claims and payouts of agencies that are accredited vs. non-accredited within your pool. Dig deep into specific claims to see whether or not accredited agencies did in fact have the proper documentation in place as a result of implementing processes around key high-risk areas within the agency.
Speak to other pools that have implemented incentive programs. They can provide more data around whether or not the cost has been worthwhile. Kentucky League of Cities Insurance Services, Delaware Valley Trust, The Rhode Island Interlocal Risk Management Trust, and The Michigan Municipal Risk Management are just a few pools who have implemented programs already.