They asked for it. They got it. The Maricopa Police Department was under the microscope in early December in a rigorous accreditation process.

Chief Steve Stahl volunteered his department for the exercise.

He contacted the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) to get put things in action.

MPD is only 7 years old and had policies in place that had come from other jurisdictions. Stahl said some of those policies did not fit. Preparing for the CALEA process was an opportunity to meet higher standards.

Stahl said he had three goals: “We wanted to get all of the policies in line with jurisdictions of similar size. We wanted to bring credibility to our policies, which helps with risk management and helps our lawyers better defend us. And it brings national credibility for the Maricopa Police Department and lets us put their flag or logo at the bottom of our website. When people are looking for employment, sometimes they look at that.”

Two assessors, Maj. Billy Lane of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and Lt. Raymond Cornford of Rapid City, South Dakota, worked their way through the department for three days.

“We talk to anybody we want to talk to and we go anywhere we want to go,” said Lane, the lead assessor. A member of the Hattiesburg Police Department, he’s been at this since 1995.

Part of their assessment includes having a public session to allow residents and police personnel to comment on the police department, good or bad. At the meeting Dec. 1, no residents appeared.

Lane said that is not unusual and is not an indication one way of the other of how the department is doing.

CALEA involves 189 standards. The assessors verify each one and write a report that goes before the 21-member commission.

“The standards tell an agency what to do,” Lane said. “How they do it is up to the agency.”

Cornford said one of benefits of CALEA accreditation is easier access to grants. “It has a lot of advantages,” he said.

If MPD gains accreditation, it is good for three years. Then the assessors return to judge them on compliance. “It’s even tougher the second time around,” Lane said.

Stahl is thoroughly familiar with the process. His previous jurisdiction in Mesa went through CALEA accreditation and then eventually went beyond those standards to a different assessment.

For the Maricopa Police Department, CALEA is the starting point.

“Does that mean we’ll go through CALEA for the next 15, 20 years? Maybe, maybe not,” Stahl said. “We may get to the point of my prior jurisdiction and work for even higher standards.”

The process, the chief said, gives frontline first-responders a “comfort level” of knowing the department’s policies are best practices nationwide and can be defended nationwide.

The process reaffirmed Stahl’s conviction that the department needs more civilian employees. In many police departments, he said, there is half a civilian employee for every sworn employee. At MPD there are 11 civilians for more than 60 officers.

That became evident during the assessment, when officers were providing proofs MPD was meeting policy. That would typically be handled by civilian employees, “who can help audit and make sure the paperwork was in line to prove that what the policy says is what we have done,” Stahl said.

Having more civilian employees is a goal as the community grows and the department grows so officers’ time can be dedicated to fighting crime.

Stahl said the officers and command staff that walked the assessors through the department policies “represented the city and the Maricopa Police Department very well, very proudly.”

The policies and professionalism of the department will be evaluated by a commission that is made up of police, a Supreme Court judge, state legislators, attorneys and others interested in keeping law enforcement ahead of the times.

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