Three years after first receiving state accreditation, the City of Warren Police Department has gone through it all again.
Three assessors from the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association went over the department with a fine-toothed comb in June. The final vote took place June 26 and the accreditation is retroactive to June 6
The department is one of only 92 accredited departments in the state. There are 327 agencies enrolled in the program and more than 1,100 departments in the state.
Locally, other than Warren only the Pennsylvania State Police, accredited at both the state and national level, is accredited. The nearest municipal department carrying current accreditation is Sandy Township in Clearfield County.
“Certainly we’re very proud of our accomplishment,” Chief Raymond Zydonik said. “West of State College and north of I-80, we are the only accredited local agency.”
The department must undergo reassessment every three years to keep its accreditation.
“We were first accredited in May of 2010,” Zydonik said. “Reaccreditation is more difficult than your initial accreditation.”
During the initial process, the assessors are looking to make sure the department has all the necessary policies and procedures in place. Since some of those are typically new, written specifically to meet the accreditation requirements, there are few examples a department can cite to show it is following the book.
At subsequent assessments, the department must show examples of how it follows each of 132 standards – only 114 of those apply to the Warren department. Some of the standards apply only to universities and other only to courthouses. The assessors are looking for one example every six months.
Within each of the standards, there are subsections. So the department has to put together a great deal of information. “There’s just a ton of paperwork involved,” Zydonik said, adding that it’s worth the effort.
“This program reduces your liability,” he said. “I believe this program is a good tool for risk management. It’s made for a much better police report because officer documentation is required by policy.”
“It’s about the ability to show you meet a set of standards that has met peer review and is accepted across the law enforcement community as best practice,” he said.
The best practices are not specific to the finest detail. The process does not result in departments that are identical. Instead, it ensures that departments have and follow the necessary policies and procedures.
“Accreditation doesn’t tell you how to do it as much as you have to do it,” Zydonik said. “You decide what best practices work for you. That’s based on community need, budgetary constraints, and your core mission.”
The department’s policy manual is not just for appearances and accreditation. “We don’t get accredited and then leave the book on the shelf,” Zydonik said. “It’s a living document.”
Officials periodically review the policies and procedures to make sure they are up to date.
Changes in the law, areas of policy that aren’t clear enough or aren’t sufficient in some cases, and the simple passage of time are all cause for review.
“Over time, it’s important that you update them,” Zydonik said.
“The two biggest challenges here are holding cells and evidence,” he said. “Holding cells have a lot of liability associated with them – prisoner searching, personal property control, and the health and welfare of the arrestee. With property, the main concern is chain of custody – process and procedure for handling of evidence.”
Every member of the department is involved in the assessment and the accreditation process. “This is a team effort,” Zydonik said. “The department as a whole has a stake in this and a genuine interest in our success.”
However, there are two members of that team that are given more tasks as a result of the accreditation process. “Michelle Krogler (operations clerk) and Lt. Jeff Zavinski – those two individuals were really the driving force to the administrative process to completion – proofs, files, dealing with the assessment team.”
“We couldn’t be successful at this without the support of other city staff, administration, and city council,” he said.
“You wouldn’t send your child to a university that wasn’t accredited – you want that professionalism and level of service,” Zydonik said. “Why would you want anything less out of your police department?”