We spoke with accreditation managers and state-level accreditation program managers to compile their recommendations and tips to make the accreditation process easier. In this article, we’ll discuss tips for achieving accreditation (the good news is, some of them are even free). It starts by procuring leadership buy-in.
Ultimately, accreditation needs to be a priority for your CEO and Command Staff. They're the ones who will need to communicate the importance of putting time, money, and resources into this effort. They'll communicate what's important to your agency and set the stage for getting full cooperation from all personnel.
You'll also need political support from your city manager or mayor. Accreditation requires funding, and you'll need their buy-in to get it. There are accreditation fees to pay, and you'll need internal staffing to work through the process, as well as money to potentially implement new processes or technology like accreditation management software.
You'll also need buy-in from, and education for, front-line officers. They need to understand the big picture and the benefits that accreditation has. They'll need to understand how their job intersects with the agency's goals of becoming accredited.
Check out episode 3 of our podcast, "How to Gain Organizational Buy-In" to learn how Ed Goodman of Buckeye Police Department helped generate buy-in at his agency.
Appoint an accreditation manager
Not every agency has the resources to hire an accreditation manager, but you should designate someone to be responsible for accreditation so there is ownership, and so that someone can coordinate the entire process. To fill this role, you’ll want to find someone with the following qualities:
- Strong communication skills
- Strong interpersonal skills
- Willingness to learn
As long as this person has buy-in from top leadership, they should be able to function with your authority and have full access to all the information needed to meet accreditation standards.
Build an accreditation team
Depending on your agency size, your accreditation manager won’t be able to do everything on his own. An accreditation team can assist with gathering proofs and generating buy-in across the agency. When other employees are invited to participate in the accreditation process they can better understand the “why” behind it and how it relates to their day-to-day tasks. A team also helps the accreditation manager work proactively, rather than scrambling prior to an onsite visit.
As you build your accreditation documentation, each department, division, and branch will need to gather its own proofs of compliance. Rather than constantly emailing them and reminding them to send documentation, your team can create a centralized process so every department can gather documentation on its own time. An accreditation management software lets you assign standards to each team member to work on. They can log in on their own time to upload their proofs and digitally highlight sections of documents that meet standards requirements.
If you don’t have a software solution, you could easily create an intake process where employees send their proofs to an email address or mailbox and the accreditation manager includes them in their files. The goal of this process is to empower the team to work proactively on their own time rather than scrambling the last few days or weeks prior to an onsite visit.
A centralized process helps different departments experience and understand the benefits of accreditation, rather than seeing it as someone nagging them for documentation. A centralized process streamlines accreditation and eliminates multiple back-and-forth emails. Your team can work collaboratively and find more efficient ways to gather documentation.
Check out episode 4 of our podcast, "How to Put Together an Accreditation Team." Brandy Osbourne discusses how her agency put together an accreditation team to streamline the process and improve communication.
If you don't have the staff available to serve on your accreditation team, use volunteers to build your documentation. There are some brilliant people in our communities who would love to help the police department achieve accreditation.
There are technical writers that can help write policy (with the Chief to give ultimate approval, of course). There are retired school teachers who are organized and know how to research topics. There are retired law enforcement officers who want to remain on the cutting edge of the profession they loved for 20+ years. And there are people with backgrounds in project management, organization, law, and other professions who can help.
Seek them out and ask them to put their formidable skills and experience to work helping you achieve accreditation. With the right people on your side, you can get this process done in weeks and months, not months and years.
Use college interns
College interns are another valuable staffing resource to successful accreditation management. Most colleges give credit to students that complete internships in police departments. This does not mean they have to ride along with an officer 40 hours a week for 10 weeks.
They can gain important and valuable experience by building your accreditation, looking for proof of compliance, and so on. Interns who want to become police officers can learn valuable insights into how a department works by working on accreditation. The same is true for future city planners, political scientists, and government employees.
They will gain valuable skills like organization and team-building, as well as valuable knowledge about how a law enforcement agency operates and how local politics work.
Join a PAC
In this case, PAC stands for Police Accreditation Coalition, not a political action committee. For example, the Florida Police Accreditation Coalition (FLA-PAC) is a not-for-profit corporation that helps member agencies "(encourage) communication, mutual cooperation, support, and the sharing of resources among each other."
A PAC is essentially a group of fellow, accreditation-seeking law enforcement professionals who meet with some regularity to receive training and facilitate information sharing as it relates to accreditation.
The FLA-PAC meets three times a year throughout the state as a way to share information and provide training to new accreditation managers and team members. Nearly every state has a PAC of some sort. If you're not sure whether your state has one, reach out to your accrediting body’s program manager to find the one closest to you.
Accreditation management software comes preloaded with accreditation standards and allows your agency to map its policies and proofs of compliance to the standards. Many solutions let you digitally highlight your documentation, conduct mock assessments, and report on progress. This results in significant time savings for administrative tasks related to the accreditation process.
PowerDMS is one example of a technology solution that cuts accreditation prep time (i.e. preparing files) by 50%, on average, when compared to paper-based processes.
Achieving accreditation doesn't have to be a Herculean task managed by a single person in their spare time. By putting together an accreditation team made up of officers, volunteers, and college interns – and backed by leadership buy-in – your agency can achieve accreditation a lot sooner than you think.
If you're still interested in pursuing accreditation but lack proper funding, check out our next article in this series, Ways to fund accreditation.