by Heather A. Coogan, Chief of Police
Littleton (CO) Police Department
“Uncertainty will always be part of the taking charge process.”
(Harold Geneen, CEO of ITT from 1959-1977)
In June 2007, I was appointed Chief of Police of the Littleton, Colorado Police Department, which had received its initial CALEA Law Enforcement Accreditation in March 2006. Along with the excitement of becoming chief, a major uncertainty is that of trying to determine what will help and what will hinder the transition process from “old chief to new chief.” With my background as a deputy chief of a large suburban agency and chief of a small campus agency, neither of which were accredited, I did not have any exposure to CALEA and did not know what to expect.
Since taking over an accredited agency, my experience leads me to believe that accreditation greatly improves the odds that the transition will be manageable and successful. Accreditation gives the new chief a head start on dealing with the challenges of their new assignment.
The most pressing concern I faced was to deal with the application and perception of fairness in the hiring, promotion, and appointment processes. It is very important for a chief to select and promote the right people, and I espouse to the “right people in the right seats on the bus” philosophy. I found some of the processes and policies in place were contrary to my philosophy. But, I soon discovered the CALEA standards were compatible with the changes I wanted to make, and that my ideas were compatible with CALEA’s standards.
I learned the CALEA standards explain “what” the agency should be doing, not “how” to do it. The “how” falls to the agency. I was able to revise the policies with the new “how” that I wanted. A sensitive issue, like changing a promotional process, was accomplished with very few problems because the guidelines for both the “before” and “after” systems were based on the CALEA standards for hiring, promotion, and selection.
I quickly discovered that accreditation supports the new chief in many ways. For example, the CALEA process ensures that when the new chief walks in the door, there will be a procedure and policy in place for all the important parts of an agency. The operational and administrative process, and most importantly, the risk of high liability issues have been addressed and are being conducted according to policy. She will not lose sleep for fear that something bad will happen because of inappropriate or missing policies, or a lack of training and knowledge. I found the transition to a new chief an orderly process, and I did not worry about what policy or procedure was missing that I did not know about, or that would create great liability.
Another example is the CALEA standards ensure that a new chief stays on course. A new chief should seek as much input as possible from as many sources as possible during the first few months on the job. She is likely to hear all manner of concerns and issues, some more serious than others. With the confidence being accredited provides, the new chief can stay on track to work through the changes that need to happen and deal with the serious issues, as well as build and extend the philosophy framework to move forward. But if the new chief hears resistance to change with the response, “CALEA says we have to do it that way,” that response is a clue that the Chief is addressing a sacred cow, not a CALEA standard. CALEA is interested in making each of its accredited agencies the best agency possible by adopting the best law enforcement practices.
This is not to say that all is perfect in a CALEA accredited agency. We all know that not everyone in the agency follows every policy all the time, even in accredited agencies. Many of the CALEA success stories are the result of how well an agency responded to the challenges they were presented. Leaders at all levels spend a great deal of their time working through these challenges. The accreditation manager and employees involved in the CALEA process are a great source of information about what the agency does well and not so well. For a chief, new or experienced, the scrutiny of the accreditation process ensures that most problems are identified when they are manageable, not after a crisis. It is a great place to start to build your road map for the future with credibility.
After two years as chief, I faced the Review Committee Hearing for the Littleton Police Department’s first reaccreditation. I was asked by a CALEA Commissioner what it was like to take over an accredited agency. The answer I gave is that, in taking over an accredited agency, I faced the same uncertainties as I would have taking over a non-accredited agency. The big difference I found is that CALEA Accreditation functions as a partner, rather than an impossible mandate and that helped to guide me in addressing the challenges of change and transition. CALEA is a proven and invaluable management resource available to the new chief on day one and is a welcome partner to meet head-on the many diverse challenges of the profession.