Regardless of their size, every law enforcement agency is faced with the same challenges and held to the same legal and professional standards. Inevitably, every police leader will be faced with challenging events including fiscal constraints, high profile criminal incidents, personnel issues, and legal claims. The difference between the chief executives who successfully maneuver through these events and those who do not is the level of development and preparation they have made individually and collectively throughout their organization.

As we have seen in recent months, some of the events affecting every department in Georgia are the result of misconduct by police officers in other parts of the country. Honestly, some of the criticism is legitimate. There is no way those officers’ behavior can or should be defended. This kind of behavior does not occur without some prior indication that should have alerted the officer’s supervisors and administration. For too long many in our profession have taken the easy route and done as little as possible. As a result of these officers’ behavior, there has been ongoing public outcry for police reform. This outcry has already led to several states implementing restrictions on agencies’ use of force options, investigative procedures, and reporting guidelines. Each of these restrictions is the result of some agencies failing to perform as they were expected.

Additional demands for police reform are coming to agencies across the nation. With the advent of social media and the connectivity of individuals, change is occurring at a faster pace than at any time in history. Police leaders can embrace this reality and be an integral part of these processes or they can have it forced upon them. Those who are not engaged in the on-going development and improvement of themselves as well as their people, processes and resources will likely have arbitrary restrictions placed upon them. Unfortunately, the poor performing individuals and organizations are unfairly represented as the norm across the nation.

Individual agencies can have the reputation of being a high quality organization that provides exceptional service with well trained, caring personnel or as an organization that only seeks to maintain the continuity of mediocrity. Departments in the former group build up goodwill with their communities. Citizens respond to the inevitable negative event with support noting it is not representative of the agency’s reputation. If the incident did happen as portrayed, it will be promptly corrected. Those departments from the latter group will not receive the support of their community, who recognize it as just another example of the agency’s mediocrity. Eventually these agencies will become the target of public criticism, inquiries, investigations, terminations/resignation, and possibly abolishment.

There is, however, an established process agencies can implement to minimize negative events and insulate agencies from unfounded criticism – State Certification. The Georgia Law Enforcement State Certification Program provides a comprehensive blueprint for agencies to ensure effective, professional law enforcement services for their community.  The certification process is a systematic approach for police leaders to ensure their agencies are meeting or exceeding established state and federal professional, management and legal standards. Agencies that are not involved in this process are vulnerable to claims in each of these areas.

To ensure their agency is in compliance with these expectations, every department is strongly encouraged to start working toward attaining state certification.

Implementation of the program’s requirements takes time to do correctly. Once their application is submitted, agencies have three years to demonstrate compliance with the established standards. Most agencies complete the
process in 18 to 24 months.

However, leaders should not work on this process alone. First, local elected officials across the State recognize their police departments are under close public scrutiny and a direct reflection on them. Because of this, agency leaders will likely find support and advocacy from elected officials and their community to engage in the certification process.

Second, as agencies begin work on attaining certification, there are abundant resources available for all departments, regardless of their size, to implement procedures crafted for their unique environment and comply with the standards. In addition to the 138 certified agencies across the state, the program staff at the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police (GACP) are prepared to make their knowledge, experience and resources available to help agencies achieve their goal.

Registration to participate in the program is only $375. Once certified, departments that receive their law enforcement insurance coverage from the Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency (GIRMA) will receive an annual 20% reduction in their premiums. While a variety of factors affect premium costs, agencies with 15 – 25 officers will save $2,500 – $5,000 a year, while agencies with 100 – 125 officers will enjoy a $25,000 – $40,000 reduction.

In closing, every agency leader is bound by the same legal and professional standards for operating their department.  Citizens from every community assume and expect their departments are complying with these standards. The only way chief executives can ensure and demonstrate their agency is complying with this expectation is to participate in the Georgia Law Enforcement State Certification.

For more information regarding the program, go to https://gachiefs.com/state-certification/ or call the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police Office at (770) 495-9650.