The Nether Providence Police department announced yesterday on Facebook (dated over a week ago), that they have been accredited by the Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission (PLEAC). What does this mean? PLEAC is an program run by the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association. According to their website, the accredited departments in DelCo are: Springfield, the county sheriff’s office, Marple, Newtown, Villanova University, Haverford, and now Nether Providence (as of April according to their website). It has 139 standards that departments must meet to be accredited. The process has three steps according to their website, 1) applying, 2) performing a self-assessment and then 3) an external assessment.
What are these 139 standards? Here they are in all their detail. They appear to be regularly updated and primarily focus on what formal policies a department has in place. For instance,
1.3.2 – A written directive stating that a “peace officer” as defined in Chapter 5 of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code (18 Pa. C.S.A. §501) shall only utilize deadly force when reasonable and justified to effect lawful objectives in conformance to the provisions of the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, other Pennsylvania statutory provisions, and Pennsylvania and Federal Court decisions.
It doesn’t say specifically what that written directive should say, it only requires the department to have one that complies with state and federal law. Here’s another example from the use of force section, updated last year,
1.3.3 – A written directive regarding the use of by agency personnel of: (08/20)
a. warning shots; (08/20)
b. shooting at a moving vehicle; and (08/20)
c. shooting from a moving vehicle. (08/20)
It doesn’t say that officers shouldn’t fire warning shots or shoot at or from moving vehicles (surely a bad idea anywhere in Garden City), it just says there should be a policy about doing so (see the end of this post about 8 can’t wait). Having these policies is a good idea, and it was obviously a lot of work for Chief Splain. He’s spent years preparing for this before the township engaged a consulting service this year to help the township complete the process. There’s 139 standards here, each of them requiring specific policies. This would involve a lot of effort. The department will have to continue to update policies to maintain accreditation going forward.
PLEAC’s accreditation program is specific to Pennsylvania. Chapter 4 includes a variety of Pennsylvania-specific requirements ensuring the department’s policies are consistent with state mandates. PLEAC appears to be a simpler, PA-specific version of a larger, better recognized program, the Commission for Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). CALEA is an international program run by a collection of U.S. law enforcement organizations. This program has180 standards (458 standards for the advanced accreditation) and is significantly more expensive. Newtown’s police department states they were the first in DelCo to gain CALEA accreditation in 2019, so there probably aren’t many others in DelCo. The state police, which operate in much of the western part of the county (and Rose Valley) where there aren’t municipal police, are both PLEAC and CALEA accredited.
What criticisms are there of the accreditation process? The primary one is, there’s no outside input. At no point did the community engage in this process (likely few were even aware it was going on), or provide input into the policies being generated. At no point of the review must the public be consulted. The standards are generated by law enforcement organizations for law enforcement organizations, again, with little external input. The process requires written policies, but says relatively little about what the content of those policies should be beyond compliance with existing law (which presumably the police should be doing whether documented or not). While googling for this piece, I saw complaints that the process codifies existing department practice without tending to change it. There’s also mixed data suggesting measurable outcomes from accreditation with doubt that it leads to measurably better policing results. These are not new issues, here’s a piece about a department seeking CALEA accreditation in 1989.
These policies required by accreditation now all exist and the township and Chief Splain have been open about sharing these policies with residents in the township interested in learning more about them. Chief Splain has done all the hard work and now it falls to residents to provide the oversight to determine if these policies embody the kind of policing our community wants. Chief Splain has already said department policies comply with at least seven of the 8 can’t wait policies. I’m not sure if he found a solution to the eighth, but all of the others are encouraging steps to have taken. One 8 can’t wait policy bans shooting at moving vehicles, for instance, going beyond what was required by accreditation. Also, accreditation should save the township money on lawsuits and insurance thanks to having these documented policies.
Congratulations are in order for Chief Splain and his department for reaching this milestone. It’ll be interesting to see what steps lie ahead after this accomplishment.