Accreditation is About Relationships and Professionalizing an Occupation
Douglas A. Middleton
Former Chief of Police
County of Henrico, Virginia
The experience of becoming an accredited law enforcement agency is more than a process, it is a journey. The assessment an organization experiences every three years is a milestone that measures their progress on the journey to professionalism. In order for it to work, however, there must be a commitment from the CEO of the organization to the idea that accreditation has value. Without that top down concurrence to the on-going improvement of the agency, accreditation loses some of the value it brings. In Henrico County, Virginia, the Police Division has been accredited for nearly thirty years and that commitment has been passed along from CEO to CEO.
Part of the value that accreditation has brought to Henrico County has been gained by helping other agencies become or maintain accredited status. As iron sharpens iron, one person sharpens another. Whether the event is a mock assessment or an on-site, this proverb has proven true for the personnel in the Police Division. Exposure to other law enforcement agencies and the way they accomplish their tasks generates new ideas for the individuals who help them achieve that status. In this regard, accreditation is more about relationships and professionalizing an occupation than anything else. It has improved not only this law enforcement agency as a whole; it has also improved the skills and perspective of the individuals that are the core of what it achieves.
From my perspective as chief, accreditation holds the agency and its leadership team accountable to the citizens, as well as the men and women with their boots on the ground, carrying out their duties at high risk within the community. It ensures that agency leaders hold themselves accountable for measuring up to a set of internationally accepted standards of performance. It requires that the entire leadership team values professionalism, officer safety, and proper respect for the personnel and those who reside in the community they serve.
When asked by citizens in Henrico County why accreditation is important, I respond, “No one would send their children to a school system or a college that wasn’t accredited. It is certain that no one would want to be admitted to a hospital that wasn’t accredited. Why would you want to live in a community with a police agency that wasn’t accredited? Accreditation assures the community that their police department is committed to excellence, and that its leadership team recognizes their responsibility to the process of perpetual improvement.”
When similarly questioned, the county’s CEO, County Manager John Vithoulkas, remarks, “Henrico County strives to provide its citizens with the best quality of life possible. Similarly, we want those who visit here to feel safe and free to enjoy all the County has to offer. The accreditation of our Police Division is one of the ways we measure the success of the County in achieving these objectives. It’s a picture of professionalism that makes a statement.”