The Ewing Police Department is currently working on the process of receiving accreditation from the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police.
“Accreditation results in greater accountability within the agency, reduced risk and liability exposure, stronger defense against civil lawsuits, increased community advocacy, and more confidence in the agency’s ability to operate efficiently and respond to community needs,” Police Chief John Stemmler said is a press release.
Accreditation is a process common to many institutions as a means to ensure best practices, which helps instill faith in the public and other members of the community.
As part of the process, a team from NJSACOP was scheduled to conduct an on-site assessment of the department starting on March 26 to “examine all aspects of the policies and procedures, management, operations and support services,” according to a department press release.
Within New Jersey, NJSACOP is in charge of accrediting law agencies, and has previously accredited the Hopewell, Princeton and West Windsor Police Departments, according to Ewing Police Capt. David Muller.
In fact, Ewing was one of the first departments to get accredited. Muller explained that the department got accredited in 2007 and it was renewed in 2011.
“Shortly after that we lost touch with the program, because we had some leadership changes within the department,” Muller said. “Because we had layoffs, we did not keep our focus on maintaining the standards of accreditation, so we got away from it. Now, under Chief Stemler and Mayor (Bert) Steinmann, we wanted to re-obtain that status as an accredited agency, so we began the process all over again in 2016,” Muller said.
The renewed efforts for accreditation are quite intensive, involving 105 standards that the department must comply with.
“You have to prove that you’re doing the things you say you are in your policies, so there’s a lot of written files that have to be maintained, and our policies have to reflect certain standards,” said Muller. “To keep accreditation, we’re required to go to this process every three years,”
During the on-site assessment, the NJSACOP was to solicit comments from the public regarding the department’s “ability to comply with NJSACOP standards,” the press release said.
Muller went into more detail on the 105 standards.
“It’s a very wide gambit. It covers everything from the requirement of having a backup generator system to ensure that we have power for operation during a storm or blackout, all the way to how you handle arrestees and how you respond to calls.”
He said it also includes the record the department keeps regarding evidence, hiring requirements and the selection process.
“It covers everything you can think of basically that’s involved in this job nowadays, even from a technology standpoint, with the use of computers and backup records,” Muller said. “It’s very involved and stringent.
The NJSACOP representatives will review the department’s physical files regarding standards to insure that they are in line with what the department say it is doing. They will also inspect the facility, look at our equipment and interview our officers and supervisors.
“At the end of it, if we have complied with all or a majority of these standards, we’ll go in front of the accreditation board with the results of our on-site assessment, and then we are deemed accredited or not,” Muller said.
If the department receives accreditation, it will have to send annual reports before its three-year renewal, showcasing evidence of following accreditation standards.
“We have to have what they call proofs, which would be any kind of actual documentation that proves that we are adhering to those standards,” Muller said. “This is an ongoing process, it really has to be maintained regularly, it’s not like we go through the assessment and then we’re done with it. We have to stay on top of it between the assessments to ensure that we have proper documentation and to maintain it properly.”
Though the process of accreditation is complicated and extensive, Muller said there are a number of benefits.
“This lets the public and the political leadership know that we’re doing things right,” he said. “It helps grow public confidence for the agency, and it quite honestly does straighten a lot of things out that we might have missed over the years.”
He added that there are certain intricacies in different policies “that make you look at your whole operation and, it’s just a best practices policy, it ensures that you’re doing things properly, and that you’re maintaining your records properly and doing all the things that are required.”
Muller said that the department gets a break on insurance costs as well. “I think there’s a reduced premium if we are an accredited agency, because it would be expected that we have less liability and potential lawsuits, or less potential problems if we are accredited.”
Overall, Muller believes that getting accredited will help the Ewing Police Department better serve the community.
“Accreditation ensures that we’re up on the latest requirements or standards from the state, society and this accreditation program, “ he said. “It should instill some confidence in the stakeholders we have here in the community, from businesses to residents to civic groups.”