The Spokane Valley Police Department was recently accredited by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, making it the first contract law enforcement agency in Washington state to earn that honor.
The accreditation followed a year of work by a team of officers, said Spokane Valley police Chief Rick Van Leuven. “We’ve made history,” he said. “It’s a team effort.”
The WASPC reviewed the department’s policies and equipment to make sure it was following best law enforcement practices. “It’s not only an inspection of files,” Van Leuven said. “It’s a systemized agency self-assessment. It’s a baseline of best practices.”
As part of the process the department had to meet detailed standards in everything from evidence management to use of force policies to training. “There are 140 different standards,” Van Leuven said. “Some of them are relatively easy, some of them are extremely difficult.”
Few law enforcement agencies have taken the step of accreditation. In Spokane County only the Cheney Police Department and the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office are accredited. Since the Spokane Valley Police Department is a contract agency of the Sheriff’s Office it could have been considered already accredited. Van Leuven said he wanted to take the extra step of vetting the department on its own merits to show citizens and the Spokane Valley City Council that “we’re going above and beyond,” he said.
Becoming accredited ensures that the department’s policies are up-to-date and can reduce liability and insurance costs, Van Leuven said. “We are a more competent, professional agency for doing so,” he said. “It really should increase the public confidence in our agency. This is hard to get.”
During the review process there was only one minor recommendation, Van Leuven said. It was to add a policy to require collective analysis of pursuits, use of force incidents and internal investigations. “We fixed it that same day,” he said.
The Spokane Police Department provides evidence and records management for the Valley department and participated in the accreditation process, Van Leuven said. “They were exceptionally helpful to us,” he said. “There was zero non-compliance in both those areas. That doesn’t happen very often.”
The police department’s accreditation comes on the heels of the Spokane Valley Fire Department becoming the seventh fire department in the state to be accredited by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. It is unusual for a city to have both its fire department and its police department accredited, Van Leuven said. “That’s huge.”
The department now has a plaque to hang on the wall, but the accreditation process doesn’t end here. It has to be repeated every four years. “If you keep up on it, it’s not as daunting a task,” Van Leuven said.
Van Leuven said he thinks interest in law enforcement accreditation is increasing. There are about 20 agencies going through the process in the state right now, he said. “You will see more agencies being accredited in Washington state.”