Myth and reality during an era of police accreditation
St. Hilaire, Jack
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A qualitative study on the strategic decision processes in law enforcement by examining the reasons why law enforcement executives in the United States choose to either participate or not to participate in national police accreditation, known as CALEA (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies), for their agencies. Police accreditation was introduced into the United States as part of an overall strategy to raise the professional status of law enforcement agencies by standardizing operating procedures. In 1979, through support from the U.S. Department of Justice four major professional police associations, the International Chiefs of Police Association (IACP), the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), created a national accrediting body for the police, CALEA. CALEA subsequently established national police standards for law enforcement agencies in the United States which have continually evolved over the years. After almost forty years, however, only a small percentage of law enforcement agencies in the United States are nationally accredited. In the meantime, research on accreditation in general as well as on police performance and effectiveness suggests that there are few measurable differences between accredited and non-accredited organizations in performance and resource allocation while these studies have provided limited impact on organizational cultures and informal structures. Nonetheless, accreditation’s symbolic value of professionalism as a means to maintain legitimacy and stability for the organization and its leaders in police circles is difficult to quantify and should not be underestimated. There may be hidden benefits with accreditation that are difficult to measure. Thus, they have not yet been realized. The study assesses the role of choices and accountability qualitatively through intensive interviews with twenty-eight law enforcement leaders from both accredited and non-accredited law enforcement agencies of various sizes and type. These are drawn from five geographic areas in the United States and include local police departments, sheriffs’ offices, primary state authorities, transportation police, and campus law enforcement. This study uses an abductive approach to identify and analyze the variables involved in the decisions made about accreditation. The data developed are used to test three relevant theories of organization concerning the relationship between agency and structure in order to provide a more cogent explanation for organizational choices and direction.