Accreditation Compliance Policy Writing – How to Get Started

by | Feb 15, 2020

So, you were just assigned as your department’s accreditation manager or policy writer, and you’re wondering to yourself where do I begin. That is a great question, and it is often asked during the new accreditation manager training. Understanding that there are many skills to master is where you need to begin. If your job requires you to write compliant accreditation policies for participation in accreditation programs such as the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) or a state accreditation program such as the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police (NJSACOP), then your job just got much more difficult. Not only do you have to author compliant accreditation policy, but you will also have to provide quality evidence of compliance to prove to an independent assessor that your department follows a policy that you have authored, and it has promulgated. Trust me; this is no small feat. It takes dedication, attention to detail, and an incredible amount of skill development, training, and experience to master. This article is going to focus strictly on the steps you should consider in writing a quality policy, one that your department will follow, and one that your department can effectively use for both accreditation and legal liability risk mitigation.

Risk Mitigation is the action of analyzing operational behavior and policy to determine gaps that could produce significant cause of actions (e.g., litigation for negligence).

The first question you’re asking yourself is, “Where do I begin?”

You begin this process of skill development and training to learn how to develop policy by attending, at a minimum, the following training:

New Accreditation Manager: If you are an accreditation manager assigned to an accreditation program such as CALEA, the first thing you need to do is contact your program manager and get registered for the next available New Accreditation Manager training class membership. These classes are either provided in a classroom environment or virtually through an online webinar. They vary in length based upon the credentialing authority. However, it is this training class where you will learn the fundamentals of your program and what is required of you as the accreditation manager and your department as the client. Some credentialing authorities such as CALEA and the NJSACOP require new accreditation managers to be trained while others do not. It is not a good idea to begin an accreditation process without official training from the credentialing authority.

Basic Policy Development/Writing: Once you learn the fundamentals of your department’s accreditation program, you will want to seek out a basic policy writing class that is taught by an instructor who is both credentialed and experienced. This is critical, and I cannot stress it enough. The instructor should have a background as both the accreditation manager and as an assessor. They should have successfully led their department through the accreditation process at a minimum of one time, but preferably more than three. Additionally, the instructor should be credentialed by an accredited university with a background that lends them to being qualified to teach such a class. For example, Captain Ashley Heiberger, ret., of the Bethlehem Police Department in Pennsylvania, is an experienced CALEA accreditation manager and Pennsylvania State Accreditation Program Assessor. He holds a law degree and teaches at the university level. Captain Heiberger teaches basic policy writing and development courses in several different states. This type of background will provide his students with the best possible product.

Once you complete your basic policy writing training, it is strongly recommended that you visit a nearby accredited department. During the visit, you should examine several of their compliant policies and take a tour of their facility. This is important because the policies you write have several components to them. One element will be procedures that personnel will use to execute your department’s mission, while others will require the involvement of some type of facility component. An excellent example of this is the evidence function. This policy will have both procedures for personnel behavior as well as procedures for the use of the temporary evidence facility and the standard evidence room. Learning how to incorporate both behavior and facility into a policy is an essential skill for the new accreditation manager or policy writer to master.

All this, and you haven’t even started putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard!

The next question you’re probably asking yourself is, how do I even get started writing a policy? The answer is research and a lot of. Let’s delve into what research is, some tips, and what to avoid.

Self-Assessment is a gap analysis performed to determine what still needs to be performed to comply with a standard.

Your research should start with a self-assessment of your department. The self-assessment is simply an observation of how your department currently performs in the area where you are looking to write a policy. You will be surprised how many times you find that your department is actually doing elements of the policy you need to write. Included in the self-assessment should be not only observation but also an interview with your department’s subject matter experts. For example, if your Chief of Police details you to write a weapons inspection policy for your department, you should first interview your weapons instructors, starting with your senior firearms instructor. The interview is to discover what this function is already doing, how they are doing it, how they are documenting it, and how they are reporting on it. If you are part of an accreditation program, you will also need to reference the applicable standards before this interview so you can formulate appropriate questions. Once you conduct your subject matter expert interviews, the next important research step should be to examine any existing policy your department has promulgated that may be applicable. The reason I suggest you interview before the examination is so that you don’t bias yourself, meaning you should take a fresh approach and look at the function before you see what others have written on it.

The next step in conducting your policy research should be to examine any controlling authority directives and statutes. For example, does your prosecuting attorney or State/District Attorney promulgate rules for your department to follow? If they do, the policy must be in compliance.

Due Diligence is the process of collecting, understanding, and assessing all the legal risks associated during policy writing.

Once you know the benchmarks that are required for the policy, you can start some outside research. Outside research in the form of Internet searching and sampling from another department area where most accreditation managers and policy writers start out. However, it should be cautioned that you should restrict your research in this area to departments that are accredited. This will provide you with a baseline knowledge that the department is providing you with a policy that has already been vetted. That being said, you will still need to do your due diligence when copying and pasting another’s compliance language. You will still need to amend any compliance language to make it your own. Also, a vetted policy is only as good as the author who wrote it and the assessor who vetted it. As you are probably aware, there are vast differences in both education and experience for accreditation managers and assessors. So, it is imperative that you review the policy as a fresh set of eyes to make sure it is compliant.

Deliberate Indifference is the conscious or reckless disregard of the consequences of one’s acts or omissions.

One common pitfall for new accreditation managers and policy writers is to copy and paste compliance language into their policy and not amend it in any way to fit their department. This is a dangerous practice and should never be followed. In a lawsuit, an attorney can easily identify that this has occurred and how many times. This practice can show the department has a deliberate indifference attitude towards promulgating policy and could easily push the department in a settlement from compensatory to punitive damages. Software programs exist, such as Grammarly, that have a plagiarism component built right into them. With the click of a button, even a novice can identify plagiarism and its source.

Once you start writing your policy, you will need to make sure it is compliant, as I said before, with controlling authorities such as your District Attorney or accrediting body such as CALEA. In this article, I will not delve into compliance writing for legal directives from a prosecutorial organization. It is a complex issue that deserves its own article. I will, however, delve into what you need to know when complying with the accreditation standard(s).

When you start writing policy, it is essential to review the applicable accreditation standard or standards. During this review, you will read the entire standard, including their standard requirement itself as well as any guiding commentary. The standard requirement statement will tell you precisely what has to be done, whereas the guiding commentary will point you in the direction with some examples and some clarifying information.

The one question I get asked the most is, “What is the most important thing to remember when complying with the standard?” The answer is actually quite easy; it is attention to detail. For example, if a standard has the word “and” in it, you have to comply with the requirement that proceeds the word “and” and with the requirement that follows the “and” word. Let’s take a look at the NJSACOP standard 4.5.2:

4.5.2 – A written directive establishes guidelines for conducting surveillance, decoy, raid, and or undercover operations, if applicable.

At face value, this appears to be a straightforward standard. However, it is one of the most common standards that assessors find an issue with. How is that you say? It’s because of the following words, “and or” and “if applicable.” This standard requires the department to have a policy for 1) guidelines for conducting surveillance operations, 2) guidelines for conducting decoy operations, 3) guidelines for conducting rate operations, and 4) guidelines for conducting undercover operations. For larger departments, their policy will have to contain all four elements listed above. For smaller agencies, one or more of the four listed requirements may be performed by a different department such as a prosecutorial organization or a county organization such as a sheriff’s office. If the department conducts all four requirements, they have to have a policy for all four requirements. However, if they only performed a fraction of the four requirements, the policy still needs to contain a statement concerning all 4. For example, if a department does not perform rate operations because a county tactical team performs it, the department’s policy should stipulate that the county tactical team is responsible for that function.

Punitive Damages aredamages exceeding simple compensation and awarded to punish the defendant.

The last items I would like to discuss in this article are lawsuits and the two of the most critical issues to remember when developing a policy. When you start reading the case law of the policy manager, you will quickly identify two areas of deficiency where attorneys focus their attention on failure to train and failure to supervise. They do this because they are looking to obtain a favorable decision for their client that puts their department in the punitive damages category. Two types of damages can be awarded in a lawsuit: compensatory and punitive damages. Compensatory damages are awarded to compensate the victim for their loss whatever that loss may be. However, tort law, which is lawsuits brought against a municipality, may also contain punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded when gross negligence on behalf of the municipality (department) is proved. Punitive damages are typically much larger than compensatory damages. How do you keep your department head of the punitive damages category? That is an easy question with only a complicated answer.

Discovery is the exchange of legal information and known facts of a case. Discovery includes interrogatories, depositions, and requests for production of documents.

When you author a policy, it is vital that you build in a distinct language for both training personnel and supervisory personnel. The policy needs to outline precisely what training is required in order for the officer or civilian who performs the function. This could be as simple as a policy review on their own or with a supervisor or as complex as the development of curriculum for a short, medium, or more extended duration class. The policy does not have to stipulate what the curriculum is other than identifying it needs to be created, by whom, and the level of training required to perform training (e.g., firearms instructor training). It is then equally important to identify who is responsible for supervising both the function or what the policy is written and also who is responsible for supervising the training. The last important item to consider is how all this will be documented. It is crucial to keep an eye towards litigation when making this decision. Your documentation will be available for full inspection during the Discovery phase of a lawsuit. You should ask yourself the following when you are developing the documentation: Is this something I would want a jury to look at? Is this professional-looking? Does it make sense? Is it organized in a logical manner? Documentation is also necessary because it not only acts as an official memory of the department, but also personnel in a deposition will most certainly have to refer to it, understand it, and testify confidently about it.

In wrapping up this article, it is essential to remember these takeaways:

  • Policy writing is not easy, and there is a lot to it
  • Policy writers need to be trained and seek out experience
  • Attention to detail is vital for compliance writing
  • When writing a policy, the author should keep in mind; it is also a legal document
  • Policy writing is an extremely important and critical task to perform, and it should be assigned to a person who is both interested and skilled
  • When deciding who to assign the accreditation manager or policy manager role, the Chief of Police needs to take many things into consideration


About the Author:

Theodore Bremer Jr. is a highly experienced compliance policy writer for the Rodgers Group. Mr. Bremer has over 25 years of experience as a supervisory police officer in New Jersey. He brought his department through advanced CALEA accreditation five times. Mr. Bremer was a founding member and the first president of the New Jersey Public Safety Accreditation Coalition. During his over 20 years of accreditation experience, he has been a consultant to well over 200 law enforcement organizations in several states. Most notably, as a consultant, he led both the New Jersey State Police and the New York City Police Department Training Academy through CALEA accreditation. Mr. Bremer is now leading the Accreditation + team for the Rodgers Group. Accreditation + aims to assist accreditation managers and policy writers around the United States in honing their skills and helping them succeed in their mission.

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