BY NATHAN DENZIN, The Badger Project
Eight percent of law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin have received full accreditation by a statewide law enforcement organization aimed at improving policing.
Some of the largest accredited departments include Milwaukee, Janesville, and Wausau.
Accreditation is a process that makes police departments more consistent, professional and accountable, said Glendale Police Chief Mark Ferguson, who is also president of the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Accreditation Group, which issues the certification. Many universities undertake a similar process every year to check whether programs meet defined quality standards.
The Wisconsin Law Enforcement Accreditation Group, or WILEAG, was created by the Wisconsin Association of Chiefs of Police in 1995 as a less expensive alternative to the national organization The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. CALEA charges nearly $20,000 to join, with an additional $5,700 in annual membership fees.
WILEAG offers full accreditation for an initiation fee of $300 and an annual fee of $650. It offers partial accreditation for an initiation fee of $100 and an annual fee of $350. WILEAG does not offer accreditation for communication centers like CALEA.
According to the organization, around 5% of all law enforcement agencies in the country – almost 1,000 – have been accredited by CALEA and around 200 are awaiting certification. Three Wisconsin agencies have CALEA accreditation — the Oshkosh Police Department, UW-Madison Police Department, and Rock County Communications Center — with the UW-Whitewater department in the process.
About 8% of the 560 eligible agencies in Wisconsin are fully accredited by WILEAG. 19 other agencies are partially accredited.
A number of factors can cause a department to choose not to be accredited by the state group, despite the discounted price, Ferguson said. The process can be extremely long and tedious, often requiring departments to rewrite entire sections of the policy.
Still, Ferguson said, “I really want all departments on board. Think of it this way: who would you rather do business with? A company that skates with the bare minimum, or a company that is willing to go above and beyond what is required? »
WILEAG and its Board of Directors – made up of law enforcement professionals, district attorneys, insurance attorneys, victims’ rights activists and academics – have identified more than 240 standards considered the “best practices” that officers should follow in various situations.
Included are policies such as keeping records of disciplinary action against officers, prohibiting chokeholds except in life-threatening situations or in self-defense, and a policy that requires an officer to intervene and to prevent another officer from using force if it does not meet the standards.
Last summer, bills signed by the governor limited police chokeholds, created statewide standards for determining when an officer can use deadly force, mandated officers to intervene when d Other officers use unlawful force and created whistleblower protections for officers who report misconduct.
Patrick Solar, a criminal justice professor at UW-Platteville who served in Illinois as Genoa police chief in the 2000s, is a “strong supporter” of credentialing. He is also a member of the Credentialing Council for the Illinois Law Enforcement Credentialing Program.
“There’s too much variation in what you see in policy from department to department on something as basic as the use of force,” Solar said. “The country’s 18,000 police departments should be required to develop [best practice] Strategies.”
New chefs are often hired to make changes, which is a great time to embark on a credentialing program, he said.
“Building a foundation under an agency with these political developments means you’re not constantly running to put out fires,” Solar continued. “You eliminate a lot of problems by being able to ask the question, ‘did we follow the correct procedures.'”
The Green Bay Police Department is not an accredited agency, in part because of the time it takes and the extra salaries that would have to be paid, Capt. Ben Allen said.
“Some agencies take a full-time position to work on these types of projects, and we haven’t had staff dedicated to a position like this for a variety of reasons,” Allen said. “In my 20+ years with GBPD, I haven’t had a chef who wanted [become accredited].”
In lieu of accreditation, the Green Bay Police Department is part of the Lexipol Policy Program, a system that provides “policy updates based on best practices, updates to federal, state, and state laws and ordinances and local, and allows customization of the policy to meet the needs of a community,” Allen said.
The Madison and Appleton Police Departments, two of the state’s largest unaccredited law enforcement agencies, did not respond to requests for comment.
One of the requirements for WILEAG accreditation is annual agent evaluation, an issue close to Solar’s heart. During his policing career, Solar demanded assessments for years, but said the practice fell out of favor with many departments.
“I can quote a risk management specialist who will tell police supervisors and managers to stop making performance appraisal records,” Solar said. “If you have recordings stored somewhere offsite, they’ll want them all burned.”
Ratings may consider things like the officer’s appearance, ability to follow instructions, compliance with agency policies, and the number or quality of arrests.
“When you have an agency that’s been accredited, you’ll find they have a much more in-depth assessment manual,” Ferguson said. “They will tend to do a lot more things that other agencies might not do.”
The Janesville Police Department has been accredited by WILEAG since 2000, with a recent re-accreditation in 2020. Chief David Moore says his department has long required annual officer evaluations — but they perform best in trusted organizations , which can take years to create.
“[Trust] is not something you can turn on or off,” Moore said. “It’s something you earn over decades. We’ve talked so much about earning the trust of our communities, but earning the trust of our communities starts with earning the trust of our employees. Because if we don’t treat our employees fairly, why would we expect them to come into our communities and treat them fairly? »
Assessments are useful if they’re accurate, fair and set achievable goals, Moore said. Police unions often object to assessments because it could end up hurting an employee down the road, he added.
The Wisconsin Professional Police Association, Wisconsin’s largest police union, did not respond to requests for comment.
“I believe that to a large extent these assessments can be objective with proper training, good supervisors and honest dialogue with our employees,” Moore said. “Put yourself in the employee’s shoes – wouldn’t you want to know [your performance] in the eyes of your organization? »
The Badger Project is a non-profit, nonpartisan journalism organization supported by the citizens of Wisconsin.
This article first appeared on The Badger Project and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.