Rockford the first department to complete new excellence program

‘This is big, momentous occasion’

by BETH ALTENA

The entire Rockford Department of Public Safety was recognized by the Michigan Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission (MACP) Monday, October 9 at the regular city council meeting. It was the first department in the State of Michigan to complete a strenuous program designed to recognize and honor best law enforcement practices.

“This is a big, momentous occasion,” said Neal Rossow, MACP Director of Professional Development. He was joined by other police chiefs and retired chiefs from across Michigan at the city council chambers in honor of the award. “The effort put in was quite amazing.”

The Michigan policing organization was styled after the national organization of Commission of Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), a nationwide system of measuring best practices used in law agencies, an award already earned by Rockford. Chief said when the Michigan organization was created and chiefs across the state heard about the new program, he was determined that the department to earn that certification as well. In fact, with the efforts of everyone in the department participating, Rockford became the first, and at this point, the only, department in Michigan to earn the certification.

An honor of chiefs Pictured are Chief Thomas Korabik, Past President of the MACP, Clifford Block, current President of the MACP, Chief Neil Rossow, Director of Professional Development and Accreditation and Program Director, Rockford Sergeant Aaron Sawyer, Chief Dave Jones, Lt. Dave Robinson, Chief Robert Stevenson, Executive Director of the MACP.

Rossow told council and the audience a similar story. “Chief Jones got it in his head he would be first.” Rockford took on the task of completing the rigorous program of making sure all the best practices identified by MACP are included in Rockford’s rules and then proving to the MACP team that those are the practices Rockford uses. There are 104 standards.

“We were already recognized by CLIA, some of the criteria for this is a natural transition,” Jones said. The steps required by a department to reach this highest level of certification take two years to complete under normal circumstances, but Rockford reached this goal in less than one year. Other departments across the state are in the process of completing all the requirements for certification.

Chief Jones said many of the requirements for the certification are processes and procedures already in use here. He showed off the police guidelines book all Rockford officers work under, which include 1,100 sections. They cover everything from arrests, investigations, traffic stops, informational systems, emergency procedures and every other potential situation that a Rockford officer could face on any given day. Jones said all departments have a similar conduct code system, but they vary according to the department.

For instance, Rockford has a dam and a river, and not all towns have that. In Rockford there is no separate division for investigation, all officers are trained to investigate. In other departments investigators may be specific to that duty and have their own additional set of rules. In Rockford, there is no “jail” or lockup arrangements, other towns may have that within their departments and in their rule book.

“We did have to fine tune some processes,” Jones stated. He said police handbooks vary, but have mostly the same core content. “They are written by risk managers. The Michigan Municipal League write a lot of model policies” that departments adopt.

“You can’t have one fits all because we (police departments) aren’t all the same.” He said the department needs to be prepared and adept at any situation that police respond to, whether it be a murder, which Rockford faced fifteen years ago, to break ins and robberies, which are more common.

Part of the process of fine tuning procedures to meet the MACP requirements was meeting with members of the Commission and examine the most important standards that law enforcement follow.

He said in 2014 President Obama began a program known as the National Twenty-first Century Police Force highlighting six pillars of policing and with 59 recommendations for all departments to follow. Number one on the list is Promoting trust and ensuring legitimacy through procedural justice, transparency, accountability, and honest recognition of past and present obstacles.

The other five pillars are Policy, Technology, Crime Reduction, Training and Officer Wellness and Safety. Jones said streamlining and fine tuning policy and procedure is a useful tool, but not a new concept. “It gave us a road-map the public can understand, but these are all things we’ve been doing in my 44 years of policing, except the social media.”

Jones said it was a great honor to have the gathering of the state’s most honored Chiefs to come to Rockford for the award. “For us it was an incredible honor.” He said the chiefs came from all over central Michigan to watch Rockford become the first department to earn this new, very impressive accreditation.

“What is most significant, is they never expected us to take on the leadership in earning this honor. We are a small department with only 14 officers. They were pleased and surprised.”

He said it is a commitment to take on earning this accreditation and police departments, like other units of government in tight times, are running very lean with little unclaimed time. As part of becoming certified for the MACP program, a department needs to designate an accreditation manger who oversees the entire process. In Rockford, Jones assigned this duty to Sergeant Aaron Sawyer. From there, Sawyer took all the duties of the process and divided them among the entire staff.

“Everyone took ownership of part of the job and we accomplished it together,” Jones said of his officers. He said the examinations of the departments processes are two fold, to approve their policies and that those policies are being followed.

Jones said it took almost a full year to complete all the processes, including several in person visits by four assessors, who examine the department in action and verify their process of providing “proofs” that they actually do follow all their best practice disciplines.

The certification is good for three years, and at the end of that time the department will again face review in order to be re-certified in this most elite category under the state program.

“I give credit to every one of the officers for this. It is a little unnerving to put yourself under such intense scrutiny. It’s not easy to have someone look in your underwear.”

Accreditation and program director Neil Rossow said the accomplishment is a big, momentous occasion that was begun in June 2016 and took concentrated and extended work and effort to complete.

“It’s no secret policing is under attack right now. It is important to highlight the excellence of this police department. It was a big deal and a lot of work. Rockford is the first department in Michigan to receive this award and the fact that it was accomplished by a department with just ten full time officers is absolutely incredible.”