Manchester's police department recently began the involved process of achieving state accreditation, a status that could save the township on insurance costs while ensuring that procedures and policies are up to the highest standards.
Accreditation does not come easy, which is why Chief Brian Klimakowski's department, the township council and Mayor Michael Fressola are all behind the push. The benefits, the chief said, will be worth the effort.
"It's the level of professionalism. It's having a good, solid agency, that is devoted to the highest standards in law enforcement," he said. "It shows that we've made the commitment to being a professional agency."
Klimakowski set a few goals when he took over as chief earlier this year. One of them was getting the department recognized by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, or CALEA, a national nonprofit organization created in 1979 that sets standards for law enforcement.
Fressola said that Klimakowski will complete the task, as he called the new chief's leadership on the endeavor thus far "outstanding."
"He will get this accreditation done. I'm convinced," he said. "He's dedicated. It's a goal, and this young man achieves the goals that he sets for himself."
Contracting for accreditation is expected to save money in the long-run
To make sure accreditation is completed successfully, Klimakowski realized the department needed some help.
"We were fortunate enough to get council approval to bring in a professional consultant," he said. The Rodgers Group, founded by former New Jersey State Police Lt. Col. Frank Rodgers, who served as that department's deputy superintendent, was contracted to help.
"He knows the process inside and out," Klimakowski said of Rodgers.
Rather than take officers off the job to prepare a department for accreditation, Rodgers' team does it for them. There are five employees assigned to Manchester's undertaking, Rodgers said.
"Essentially, we're acting as contract employees for the town in that we're developing policies customized for Manchester," Rodgers said. There are five employees assigned to Manchester's undertaking.
Klimakowski said that it usually takes two officers working full-time two years to complete the necessary work for accreditation, which effectively takes them off their typical policing duties. This would waste time, money and further strain the department's reduced force.
The Rodgers Group billed the township $37,000 for its services, which was approved unanimously by the township council. Officials expect a return on that initial investment.
"Probably one of the greatest things it will do for the township of Manchester is it will save us money on our police excess liability insurance," Klimakowski said. "Right now we're projected to save $15,000 a year just simply because we're accredited."
The initial accreditation fee is $5,000 and the department will have to pay a re-accreditation fee of $1,500 every three years.
"The first three years, it's basically going to be a wash," Klimakowski said. "We're going to be a little bit ahead."
In those first few years, about $45,000 will be saved in insurance costs, while $42,000 — the $37,000 paid to Rodgers plus the $5,000 accreditation fee — will be spent on earning the status. After those first three years, the department can start banking the insurance savings.
The chief said that there may be some additional "minor costs" if the department needs to make improvements to meet CALEA standards, citing the potential for new locks in evidence storage as an example.
Fressola said that the initial investment will pay off in time.
"It's a little bit expensive, but in the long run, it's worth it," he said. "The prestige it brings to the township of Manchester is worth the additional cost. When we need to increase the size of our police force, it will bring the top candidates to the job in the future."
Rodgers said that he expects Manchester's police department to be accredited within a year, though the chief said he hopes for a faster turn-around.
"My goal is to push this through quicker than a year," Klimakowski said. "We're taking all the steps and moving in that direction."
Accreditation is expected improve policies and save on costs through standardization
Since other institutions are accredited, law enforcement should be no different, Rodgers said.
"This is what schools and colleges and hospitals have been doing for years, being accredited," he said. Over 180 agencies in New Jersey are pursuing accreditation, with one-third of those under contract with Rodgers.
Workman's compensation, law enforcement liability and the risk of civil lawsuits decrease as better practices are employed, Klimakowski said, citing a 2002 study outlining the benefits of accreditation.
"There's greater accountability in the agency since officers know what the rules are," he said. "It just really sets a strong set of guidelines for everyone."
This include prisoner transfers, how petty cash is handled, the process for evidence transfers and how personnel is evaluated.
Additionally, a new computer system will enable personnel to stay up-to-date with new policies and department information, as everything — including whether officers are compliant with all of their training — will be stored in a central location.
The consultant will scour the department's policies and practices, and alter those that do not meet the 112 standards outlined by CALEA.
"It's one thing to have a policy in place, it's another to have one that meets the standards of the accrediting body," Rodgers said, adding that even good policies often must be rewritten to meet the CALEA standards. "Manchester Police Department has an outstanding reputation. They really do a great job and I've seen what's in place already, so I'm confident that they're going to do a great job."
Rodgers said that his agency is under contract with about 60 police departments, eight prosecutors offices and eight sheriff's departments — including Ocean County — throughout the state.
"I wanted to help my fellow law enforcement officials help the public that they serve. The more professional we are, the better service we provide to the public we serve," he said. "It's one thing to say we're doing it. It's another thing to be independently assessed.
"It runs the gamut," Rodgers said. "Everything in the law enforcement business, there's a standard on it. Then that standard requires a policy in place. Then there must be independent proof that you're actually abiding by the policy that guides the department."
The township's contract with Rodgers became effective on July 1, and the department had a meeting with the group earlier that month. Policies, procedures, directives and other department documents were handed over for analysis, the chief said.
"They'll analyze what we have, figure out the areas we need to get to, what needs to be redone, what needs to be changed," Klimakowski said.
It remains too early to tell how much of the department's policies will need alteration, though Klimakowski believes Manchester is "ahead of the curve."
"We have a lot of policies and procedures in place and our rules and regulations have been approved through ordinance, though I'm sure to meet CALEA standards there will be things that will have to be tweaked," he said.
Once accredited, the department will have to prove that it is keeping up with standards.
Assessors re-accredit departments every three years, Rodgers said. Whether Rodgers is again contracted again to maintain Manchester's accreditation once it is earned remains to be determined.
Capt. Lisa Parker will be the accreditation manager and other officers will be appointed as experts on various subjects, Klimakowski said.
Nearby, Plumstead and Berkeley townships are accredited, and other local departments are in the process or considering beginning the task, Klimakowski said.
Beyond the money-saving benefits, the chief said that accreditation will help keep Manchester's residents safe.
"It improves our delivery of services to the public," he said.