Accreditation? Book 'Em

Published 5:17 pm Thursday, April 11, 2013

FARMVILLE – The Town of Farmville's police department hit the bull's-eye, locking up its first-ever accreditation, with the officers' fingerprints all over a perfect score, in fact.

There were no wrongs-the accreditation team read nothing but rights when it came to the department's three-year journey toward the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission (VLEPSC) certification.

“It means that in the last three years we've risen to a level of professionalism and we are able to provide a level of service to the citizens and visitors to the town of Farmville that rival any department in the state,” a proud police chief, Doug Mooney, told The Herald during a Wednesday interview.

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Accreditation, which he believes is the single most important achievement for Farmville police, shows “that we do provide exactly what is expected of a police department, what (citizens) should expect of a police department and we can prove it. We'll continually strive to improve upon what we're doing but it shows that we're providing the services that we should be doing and we're documenting things well,” Chief Mooney said.

Gary Dillon, the Department of Criminal Justice Services VLEPSC Program Manager, stressed that very point during his presentation to Town Council Wednesday night.

“It's one of the only means by which citizens and government leaders like yourselves can be assured that the agency is maintaining the high performance mark to which the community has a right.”

Accreditation is no gimme. The course is tough, lots of rough, plenty of bunkers, and rolling greens to be mastered. Only 25 percent of the more than 400 law enforcement agencies in the state of Virginia eligible for the program have earned accreditation through VLEPSC. Just 84 of them.

“Your department is now one of them,” Dillon said, “and I'm very happy to say that.”

Dillon explained that Virginia law enforcement agencies can seek to achieve accreditation “but they're certainly not required to. Our program is completely voluntary, which further distinguishes your police department for its participation.”

But a perfect score when there are 187 standards, with a total of 713 points of compliance that must be proved beyond any reasonable doubt, beyond the shadow of any doubt?

Law enforcement agencies aren't accredited through circumstantial evidence. Ironclad facts are required.

Perfection is far from usual, especially for a department going through the accreditation process for the first time.

“What I can tell you is when we did receive the award…they made a statement to us that for an initial assessment having a perfect score is rare,” Chief Mooney said, “and that's something we should be proud of.”

A perfect score is such a difficult finish line to cross, he explained, “because you have so many changes to become accredited in a department; usually you have at least a couple of things that are returned that you have to correct but we were spot-on.”

Chief Mooney gives full credit to the entire department. Like baseball, everybody in the line-up faces the pitching. The “clean-up” officer doesn't bat over and over. The entire team must come through to win accreditation and a perfect score demands that level of roster-wide performance even more.

“Everybody is responsible for carrying their share and you can't fudge it, you can't fake it, and with that many standards and points of compliance you can't pretend that you're doing it,” the police chief said. “You have to show that you're doing it.

“And you need to have the support of all of the officers and the buy-in of all of the officers,” Chief Mooney continued.

Dillon told Town Council that the accreditation was “a testament to good leadership (by Chief Mooney). This is a testament to support from this council, the town manager and every officer in this police department doing their job. It's one thing to have a policy manual but it means absolutely nothing if you don't follow it.”

Accreditation not only ensures the department has policies and procedures in place but it also ensures that the department shows itself to be fiscally responsible. The department's finances are audited, including cash funds such as the narcotics cash fund and department cash funds.

Community outreach programs must also be in place, an area of emphasis for the police chief when he arrived from Chesterfield County. “Part of what you try to do for professionalism is to show that you're interacting with the citizens because they're your customer base,” he explained.

“We were able to get everything into compliance with a perfect score,” Chief Mooney said. “It took us three years to do it and that was a tough three years to get us there.”

And it was attained, he repeats of the process begun in March of 2010 shortly after his appointment, “out of the work that the officers have put forth to achieve this level.”

A difficult mountain to climb, particularly for the first time.

“It is not an easy thing to achieve. The cost for state accreditation isn't bad but the work that has to be put forth to establish the framework for it is tough,” Chief Mooney said, “because you not only have to establish that framework but you have to show that you're operating within that framework and that's where it's difficult, because you need to be doing that work day-in and day-out. And we need to show that we continue to do that work every year from this point on and every four years we do have to have the department reassessed to keep our accreditation.”

Chief Mooney tipped his cap to Town officials, as well as the department's civilian accreditation manager, Ernie O'Boyle.

“We couldn't have done this without the support of Gerry Spates, my boss, and Town Council…” the police chief said.

As for O'Boyle, Chief Mooney said the part-time employee “knows accreditation inside out.”

Just a few years ago, prior to Chief Mooney's hiring, Town Council paid for an independent assessment of the department that was critical in a number of areas.

From that assessment to this accreditation, and with a perfect score, in a relatively short period of time.

That point is not lost on Chief Mooney.

“It's noteworthy to point out that if you compare it to the assessment that was done of the department, pretty much everything that was brought out in that assessment has been addressed,” he said, “and accreditation can account for a large part of that…It's eerie how everything has seemed to smooth over, all of the issues in the assessment.

“We still have work to do. You always have work to do,” he continued, before repeating the bottom line:

“The men and women,” Chief Mooney said of the police department, “have come so far here.”

Book 'em.

Guilty as charged.