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West Valley City Journal

WVCPD achieves gold standard in law enforcement

Jun 02, 2017 10:19AM ● By Travis Barton

WVCPD earned CALEA accreditation in May. A standard held by fewer than five percent of police departments nationwide.

By Travis Barton | [email protected]
The West Valley City Police Department now holds what no other department in Utah currently has: national accreditation.
WVCPD was awarded a certificate from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) during the May 9 city council meeting. The accreditation is considered a gold standard in law enforcement held by fewer than five percent of police departments nationwide.
“The community expects the best police department and the desire is to provide that best level of service. This helps us do that,” said Police Chief Lee Russo.
Russo described it as a “painstaking” and “intensive process” that required three and a half years of demonstrating the best practices of law enforcement of 159 standards, an onsite CALEA assessment and an oral defense made by Russo before the commission.
CALEA assess everything from hiring procedures and transparency to pursuit policies and accountability.
“Staying with this program is our way of committing back to the community that we will not allow ourselves to become obsolete. We will not rest on our successes of the past,” Russo said.
Being accredited is a continual process which will see the onsite assessment every three years and a review of those best practices standards conducted yearly.
Mark Mosier, regional program director for CALEA, said not every “organization’s CEO” is willing to set aside their ego subjecting their department to such a comprehensive review.
“It takes a strong leader to sign up for this program,” Mosier said.
Mosier said the department stood out in every level from command staff down and was very in tune with the CALEA process.
By keeping up to date with CALEA, Mosier said it reduces the department’s liability.
“What chief wouldn’t want that, it reduces lawsuits, payouts are less if there is a finding because of all the documentation and policies that are constantly updated,” he said.
One upgrade that affected wide areas of the department was how to interpret their data and properly analyze it. This included their hiring practices so they match community demographics, the reasoning behind pursuits and complaints and then measuring those against their training.
“It really gave us some insights and tools into how to better interpret what was going on in the agency,” Russo said.
Russo said while it’s nice being the only nationally accredited agency in Utah, hopefully it can be a rallying cry in other cities.
“We also want to promote it so it inspires other agencies to subscribe to this and understand why it is valuable to be doing this,” he said. Salt Lake City is currently enrolled in the program striving for accreditation.
Russo arrived in August 2013 quickly working to implement the CALEA standards. The department was fresh off the Daniel Willard shooting and accusations of corruption in the narcotics unit and throughout the organization.
“Going from that to today, an organization that’s taken a leadership role in law enforcement to achieve this,” Russo said. He highlighted other programs they’ve implemented such as the Start by Believing program and processing all rape kits.
Councilman Steve Buhler said during the city council meeting that public opinion of the police department has certainly improved.
“I don’t think it’s because we get awards and recognition, but I think the awards and recognition follow actual improvement, progress and accomplishment,” Buhler said.
CALEA assessor Rob Sofie reported that “there’s clearly a flavor, a theme [that] things have changed over the last three years, and it’s being favorably received and reported.”
While members of the department may have been intimidated by the changes at first, Russo said their belief grew as they understood the reasoning for the standards.
“They became the believers, they became the champions, they saw the better future, they recognized where we had been and the things we had been doing and now we would be better,” he said.
Russo is hopeful that this is only the beginning, that 10 years from now, everyone in the department will consider CALEA standards common sense.
“Then you know you’ve made a real cultural change,” Russo said.
Russo came from a CALEA standard department in Baltimore County (Maryland). He said it’s been “very gratifying to know that you’ve gone into an organization, that you’ve led an initiative that is truly going to make a difference not just now but well into the future.”
He later added the department is filled with “creative thinkers” and “when you create an environment that unleashes that talent, the amazing things that wind up happening, it’s just been extremely awarding personally and professionally to see this happen.”