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Texas department making major rules overhaul

By David Kassabian
The Corpus Christi Caller-Times

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Accreditation effort aims to result in more professional approach

The Corpus Christi Police Department's top commanders knew change was coming in August 2006 when they committed to a three-year accreditation process that they said demanded the best way to do business.

Eighteen months, two offices and 439 file folders into the push to be accredited, Cmdr. John Mosely said the pending changes are clear -- an almost certain revision to most of the department's rules manual, which dictates how officers do everything from using force to taking meals and breaks.

Mosely's job is to lead the effort, and each of the folders is dedicated to a directive required by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. The department must document how it adheres to each point and show proof that it follows those guidelines; the overall goal is a more professional, more efficient way of doing things.

Many of the directives already are in the rules manual, division operating manuals and other written rules the department adheres to. The problem for Mosely is that many of the department rules never are explicitly stated, and many points the commission requires never have been in place, he said.

"The rules manual probably never has been revised this much, this radically," Mosely said. "What we're doing now touches every corner of the department."

Law enforcement agencies have as many as three years to ready for initial accreditation by the commission, and Corpus Christi likely will take the full amount of time, Mosely said. Started in 1979, the commission was formed by four major law enforcement organizations as a way to set a high level of uniform standards and procedures for agencies and departments in the country.

The city will pay about $21,000 distributed in three payments during a three-year period to the commission. The Law Enforcement Trust Fund, also known as the Drug Fund, will be used to pay for the accreditation process.

If given initial accreditation, the department must adapt to updated standards developed by the commission and be re-accredited every three years.

The benefits of accreditation include reduced liability exposure and a stronger defense against civil lawsuits. However, Mosely said, the biggest benefit is an added sense of professionalism brought to the department and its officers.

Mosely has been attached to the project since August 2006. Capt. Steve Mylett was added about six months ago to help, and the group moved to an austere office in the Nueces County Appraisal District Building across the street from police headquarters to limit intrusion.

"That move is proof how serious Chief (Bryan) Smith was about this project," Mylett said.

Transferred from the Uniform Division, Mylett now heads up a new inspections unit that for now only includes himself. He is responsible for a commission directive that requires self-assessment.

Before preparing for accreditation, the department never regularly inspected all of the divisions, which is commission directive.

Mylett is set to begin his first inspection in February -- an announced review of the property division. From now on, every division will be inspected to ensure compliance with the commission, he said.

Inspections in the past have been limited, usually at the request of the chief, Mylett said. The new part of the department's policy will have Mylett looking at each division at least every three years, spending as long as three months per visit.

Benefits from accreditation, at least at first, will be most apparent to those within the department, Mylett said.

"The community will not see a major change in operations in the field," he said. "But there will be a lot of behind-the-scenes changes that will impact the direction in which the police department is traveling."

Philip Rhoades, a processor of criminal justice at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, said fewer than 1,000 departments across the country are accredited in some fashion, but the push for accreditation is a growing phenomenon.

An outside group auditing the way a department does business combats complacency, said Rhoades, who has expertise in policing, crime prevention and program evaluation.

"In law enforcement, it's hard to see past tradition and custom," he said. "Accreditation keeps agencies from operating like a horse with blinders on. If all we know is what we have been doing for 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, then we're not looking to find those good ideas that are out there."

Copyright 2008 Corpus Christi Caller-Times

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