Not all police departments in New Hampshire follow the same standards and policies when it comes to things like use of force or evidence procedures, but a process that law enforcement experts say would raise the bar and make policing more consistent, professional and accountable is out of reach for some communities.
Nationwide calls for police reform following protests over systemic racism, police brutality and the killing of unarmed black people have started conversations in New Hampshire and elsewhere to identify weaknesses in police standards and accountability and to fix them. Those conversations turn again and again to accreditation, a process that involves a third party regularly inspecting and reviewing a department’s policies, procedures and facilities to make sure it’s following best practices in policing.
While more than a dozen departments in the Granite State are either already accredited or are in the process of becoming accredited by the national Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), hundreds of small-town police departments are not accredited, oftentimes because they can’t afford the thousands of dollars required or spare the manpower to do the work.
According to the CALEA website, the initial costs can vary from $8,475 to $19,950 depending on the size of the department.
Meanwhile, Congressman Chris Pappas (D-NH) introduced legislation that would create a $10 million one-time grant program to help carry the cost for police departments across the country that want to be accredited but can’t afford it.
Lt. Mark Morrison of the Londonderry Police Department said most police departments want to be accredited.
“Everybody is in favor of clear and sensible policies and frameworks in which to operate. Everybody is in favor of that,” says Morrison, who is the newly minted president of the NH Police Association and is in charge of professional standards and accreditation in Londonderry.
Londonderry was previously CALEA accredited between 2006 and 2009 but did not renew due to budget constraints. Since the department began pursuing accreditation again last year, that’s been Morrison’s sole focus.
Manchester and Nashua police have been accredited for the past 30 years. Mid-sized departments like Portsmouth, Laconia, Keene, Hudson and Dover are accredited. Even smaller departments like Pelham, Claremont and Hollis, and the Strafford County Sheriff's department are also on the list.
In addition to Londonderry, Salem and Lebanon are in the process of applying for accreditation through CALEA, which involves a one-time application fee, plus varying costs for facility upgrades, policy reviews and rewrites.
“It’s definitely growing … and there’s more and more interest in it. There has been for the last few years,” says Bill Pease, the accreditation manager for the Nashua Police Department and the vice president of the Northern New England Police Accreditation Coalition (NNEPAC), a regional support network for agencies looking to get accredited.
Pease said departments can apply for two tiers of accreditation through CALEA.
Smaller departments tend to get the first tier, which requires they have 180 policies established for certain things like proper use of force, safe and hygienic holding facilities and evidence procedures. Departments who want tier-two accreditation have to bring nearly 460 policies up to snuff, Pease said.
He said the policies are not prescriptive, but CALEA requires departments to at least have written policies for certain things, and they share best practices and sample policies from other accredited law enforcement agencies from across the country to applicants or accredited members looking to make updates.
Pease said a lot of the things being identified as problems in some departments nationally are proactively addressed through the accreditation process.
“Many of the issues that were brought forth, accredited agencies like here in Nashua already have (covered),” Pease said.
He said accreditation not only sets clear expectations for officers, it instills a culture of professionalism, codifies mechanisms for administrative discipline and the third-party oversight creates an incentive to maintain those high standards.
There is a process that ensures officers are following the policies in practice. CALEA inspectors regularly check on department reports to make sure they align with the policies. Departments who sign up for a web portal called PowerDMS for an additional fee can share those reports and policies remotely for CALEA personnel to access whenever they want.
Chief Carlo Capano of the Manchester Police Department said that the system provides accountability.
“There’s no agency out there that should be ashamed to open up your books,” Capano said.
Capano said he is a “huge advocate” of accreditation and that if he was on the governor’s Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency he would “scream at the top of the hill” that accreditation is what’s needed.
“I think every agency should be accredited,” Capano said.
But many departments who want to be accredited are running into barriers. Greg Murphy, the president of NNEPAC, and the Manchester accreditation manager, said police from towns like Newton and Loudon attended coalition meetings for several years in order to get mentored in the process of applying for accreditation but ultimately couldn’t secure the funding.
Towns like Weare discontinued funding its accreditation due to budget constraints, Murphy said.
Pease said there is a sliding scale depending on department size to the application and annual fees. For a department with under 25 full-time employees, the initial fee is a little over $8,000 for the first three-year application and approval period, he said, then it’s $4,000 every year after that.
“It goes up a little as the agency is larger,” he said.
Manchester pays an annual renewal fee of $5,555 plus another $7,088 for the PowerDMS portal each year, Capano said. They added the web portal feature about two years ago, he estimates.
The department also pays Murphy a salary of $56,094 to manage the accreditation process.
Nashua Police Chief Michael Carignan said the department pays roughly $6,500 in annual fees plus about $59,000 for Pease’s part-time salary.
Salem is paying a startup fee of $11,500 for the first three years, and expects to continue paying an annual fee of $4,800, according to Salem Chief Joel Dolan. They’ll need to do some facility upgrades as well, which will likely cost thousands of dollars.
Departments in Londonderry and Lebanon paid Pease for a few thousand dollars’ worth of consulting work on their policies before applying for CALEA.
Pappas is introducing legislation that would help cover that.
“In talking with some of our law enforcement leaders across the state, they’ve identified accreditation as a way to reform culture, to institute best practices to insist on professionalism and accountability,” Pappas said Wednesday. “I think it should be available to more police departments in New Hampshire and across the country.”
Mark Morrison of the New Hampshire Police Association previously said he would support a program of this sort.
“We would certainly welcome funding for any agency that wants to pursue something like that. Or even establishing a state accreditation model,” Morrison said. “I don’t think anybody would be opposed to that at all.”
Murphy said he supports a grant program and has been working with Pappas’ office to draft the legislation, but he is against creating a state accreditation body, saying it would be a lot of time and effort recreating what already exists and is immediately available through CALEA.
Brian Pattullo, the former chief of the Andover, Massachusetts police department, was the former president of the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council and led the Massachusetts state accreditation commission.
He said there are about a dozen states who have created their own state-level accrediting bodies but they are mostly based on CALEA standards.
Pease said the two biggest barriers to a department getting accredited are the financial cost and the actual work that goes into revamping policies or renovating facilities.
Pappas said some communities also lack the “buy in” to pursue the program. But that’s the exception to the rule, Pattullo said.
“When I first came on (in the 1980s) the union looked at it as Big Brother coming in,” Pattullo said.
Now, he said most agencies want to be accredited, officers want to be held to the higher standards, and there’s peer pressure to keep up with neighboring communities. He said even town’s elected officials are likely looking for police chiefs who want to pursue CALEA as part of the interviewing process for new chiefs.
But there are exceptions to the rule. At the end of 2018, Pattullo was brought on to oversee the Salem Police Department as an administrative chief, contracted through Municipal Services Inc., following a critical audit report.
He said some policies were updated to match CALEA standards, others cited CALEA but did not meet best practices. But Pattullo said the biggest missing piece was transparency. He said the former administration in Salem had an insular culture that did not want to open itself up to outside scrutiny and oversight. For that reason, they didn’t apply for official accreditation for years.
Pattullo said it’s smarter in the long run to be accredited. He said it not only makes the department better and the community safer, it also protects both from litigation.
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