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Safety, Certified

May 2014

By Nancy Mann Jackson

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Achieving accreditation for your safety and security operation can bring benefits that are both professional and practical. Business officers and safety professionals explain why and how their institutions made the grade.

When Villanova University, located on suburban Philadelphia’s Main Line, needed a new director of public safety, the university included in its position announcement its intention to pursue national campus safety accreditation. That stated goal was one reason David Tedjeske applied for the job. “This signified to me that the university was serious about professionalizing its public safety department,” says Tedjeske, who has led that area since 2007. The depart-ment achieved accreditation in 2011 from the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA). 

Business officers at Villanova say the goal of accrediting the university’s public safety department was intended to be both professional and practical. “In my view, accreditation would be a tangible demonstration of the department’s enhanced professionalism, and thus was worthy of my support,” says Kenneth Valosky, vice president for administration and finance. “There is nothing of more importance than the campus safety of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and visitors; and accreditation would be an objective, external validation of the department’s efforts to ensure that goal.”

Villanova—a private, comprehensive masters’ institution—joins a growing number of colleges and universities of different sizes and types that are choosing to pursue campus safety accreditation to ensure that their public safety departments are adhering to best practices in the field. Part of the process is to publicly portray their commitments to providing top-notch safety and security on campus. 

While IACLEA is devoted solely to accrediting campus safety departments, other organizations offer similar certification. At Georgia State University, Atlanta, the public safety department decided to pursue accreditation from three different accrediting bodies, because each offered a different benefit, says Connie Sampson, chief and assistant vice president for university police at Georgia State. 

“We wanted a way to improve delivery of public safety services and to promote pride and professionalism within our department,” says Sampson, referring to the public, urban research university, with approximately 32,000 students. “The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police state certification program is one of the largest professional associations for law enforcement administrators in Georgia, and one of the largest in the country. The IACLEA accreditation program is the leading authority in campus public safety. And the CALEA [Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies] accreditation program is a national credentialing authority for seeking professional excellence.”

Following are further details on Villanova, Georgia State University, and several other campuses’ efforts and outcomes in seeking safety and security accreditation.

Benefits and Costs

The process of pursuing campus safety accreditation offers its own rewards. By examining the standards and working to meet them, public safety departments develop habits of self-assessment and ongoing improvement. Those who are going through the process also benefit from having an instant network of professionals in already-certified departments across the country willing to offer advice and help. “Support from other accredited schools has been invaluable,” Tedjeske says. “Other schools that have completed the process are often willing to provide examples of policies and operating practices that meet the standards.”

CALEA’s fee structure is based on the number of full-time staff employed by the security department and range from $3,470 to $5,000 annually, says Tedjeske.

Fees for both organizations allow institutions to access all required forms and materials, as well as to qualify for the on-site evaluation by a team of assessors. 

Additional costs are based on existing equipment and programmatic and operational practices of the accrediting organization at the time it embarks on the process with an institution. For example, says Tedjeske, a current standard requires that an alternate power source be available for a department’s emergency public safety dispatching function. While most departments already have this capacity, acquiring it would be an added expense for a department that does not. 

Other requirements include protective barriers between front and rear seats in the vehicles used to transport detainees; medical and psychological examinations for candidates for sworn officer positions; and staff training on a broad range of topics—a process that can incur travel, instructional, and overtime costs. Many departments already budget for such activities, making the true cost of becoming accredited quite a bit less than it might initially appear. 

A good first step, advises Tedjeske, is to review the accrediting body’s standards to gain a better sense of cost and overall feasibility of the process. Some accrediting agencies, such as IACLEA, make their standards available online at no cost; other agencies may charge a fee unless a department is already enrolled in their programs.

Dedicated staff time can be an issue, especially for smaller departments. Tedjeske notes, “Someone must fulfill the role of accreditation manager, a position that the chief or director typically does not have time for.”

Another benefit of accreditation is a public safety department’s elevated reputation. “Higher education administrators and academicians understand the concept of accreditation very well,” Tedjeske says. “Being accredited helps establish credibility for the department within the larger university setting.”

In addition to enhancing the public safety department’s reputation on campus, Sampson says becoming accredited gave her department an improved status throughout the community and among local law enforcement agencies. “Accreditation allows university police departments to stay at levels that top municipal agencies are adhering to, and provides a challenge to maintain those levels,” says Georgia State’s Sampson. 

“It enhances operations by helping us strengthen policies and procedures, keeps us from becoming complacent by offering a process of self-evaluation, keeps in check law-enforcement activities and goals, and ensures the continuing stable condition of the agency. Accreditation promotes positive growth and builds morale, which leads to work efficiency. It also allows us to operate on common ground with surrounding agencies to increase the quality of services to the citizens of our community.”

A university benefits when neighbors, community members, and parents view the campus as a safe place to be. Sampson says her department’s accreditation has also aided the university’s new student recruitment efforts and reduced liability litigations. 

But receiving accreditation is not a stopping point. Accredited safety departments are devoted to continuous improvement, with departments submitting an annual report certifying their continued compliance and reporting any issues. For GSU, a joint accreditation from IACLEA and CALEA means that the university can pay $450 to include annual assessments, a fee that Sampson says, “represents $150 per year to IACLEA for a three-year self-assessment.”

Accreditation Standards

Becoming accredited means adhering to a long list of standards set forth by the accrediting body. As with fees, the standards vary based on which accrediting organization a department chooses. 

The applicability of standards will also differ based on the nature of the department’s authority and the scope of its services. “Sworn” police departments are authorized to make arrests, and their personnel generally carry firearms. By contrast, “non-sworn” agencies provide security services, but must rely on local police for law enforcement activities.

For instance, Anne Arundel Community College’s public safety department has always been a non-sworn agency, but it is in the early stages of transitioning in the direction of sworn officers, says Gary Lyle, public safety director at the Arnold, Maryland, community college. While the department has already achieved accreditation as a non-sworn agency, earning the same certification as a sworn agency will require it to meet approximately 18 new code standards that are not currently applicable. In the transition, the department will likely operate as a “hybrid” agency, with both sworn and non-sworn officers, until a full transition occurs through officer attrition, Lyle says. 

Generally, public safety departments must adhere to approximately 200 different standards to become accredited. In 2012, IACLEA redesigned its accreditation program to lower the associated costs to campus safety departments, and IACLEA rewrote its standards, having previously used CALEA’s standards. As a service to campus public safety departments, the new IACLEA standards are available online at no charge, says Tedjeske, who chaired the IACLEA’s Standards Review and Interpretation Committee. CALEA’s standards are available for a fee.

Currently, 39 institutions have achieved accreditation through IACLEA and 15 more are in the process of pursuing accreditation. 

Getting Started

When a campus public safety department joins IACLEA, it receives a step-by-step guide to the process of accreditation, Sampson says. Those steps include applying for accreditation; conducting a self-assessment; undergoing an on-site analysis and review; and, once accreditation is earned, ensuring ongoing maintenance. To begin the process, a department must get its ducks in a row, determining who will oversee the work of reviewing standards and ensuring the department is in compliance.

“Getting started is definitely the biggest challenge,” Tedjeske says. “The department’s organizational structure needs to be able to include someone to serve as accreditation manager. In small to midsize departments, this person can have other responsibilities, but must be able to devote a sufficient amount of time to keeping the agency on track. 

“The other difficulty can be finding the right person to act as accreditation manager. This individual must be committed to achieving accreditation and must be detail oriented. The accreditation manager can either make or break the department’s likelihood of success.”

In addition to finding the right person to lead accreditation efforts, a department must ensure that it can fund the person’s time spent on accreditation work. For instance, at the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh, Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services Thomas Sonnleitner serves on the IACLEA Accreditation Commission, but his university has yet to submit its application for accreditation.

“We are trying to prepare for the process by addressing some of the issues that will be needed in order to get accreditation, such as personnel and equipment,” Sonnleitner says. “But we have not yet submitted our application. It’s mostly a resource issue and due to severe cutbacks in state funding here in Wisconsin, it is a challenge to fund these kinds of endeavors.”

When funding and personnel are in place, departments have little trouble working their way through the standards, although it can be time-consuming, article sources admit. Departments are allowed up to three years to complete the entire process. “The standards and process provide a road map to organizational change,” Tedjeske says. “IACLEA’s standards establish best industry practices upon which the organization can change and grow. The standards provide valuable support in the educational environment, where technical expertise is sometimes needed.”

At Georgia State, some of the most helpful steps of the process included having team members attend conferences and Police Accreditation Coalitions (PAC) meetings to train and network with other accredited agencies, Sampson says. PACs provide a networking system of support for agencies involved in or seeking accreditation. “We are a member of the Georgia PAC, which allows us to access resources, training, assistance with standards, mock assessments, and feedback for the accreditation programs for continuous improvement and compliance.” Most PACs, explains Sampson, provide a roster of members as well as a listserver for frequent communication. 

As the team reviewed each standard, explains Sampson, and it identified current policies that were not in compliance, members would work together, drawing on the expertise learned at conferences and from newfound connections in other agencies, to create new policies. For example, GSU’s department implemented a new policy for the use by sworn personnel of OC (pepper) spray. 

“We reached out to several local and out-of-state law enforcement agencies, requesting feedback, training techniques, and policies,” says Sampson. “The information we gathered from these connections helped our agency decide how to write policy for the type of environment we are located in, what type of products to purchase, and the type of training needed—some contacts gave actual accounts of incidents regarding deployment in a school environment.”

Once the new compliance policies are in place, departments must establish a formal system of providing training on the new written directives and documentation, Sampson says. At Georgia State, once this training was available, it was given to the entire agency. The department uses several formats, says Sampson. Personnel can attend shift briefings through an in-service class, via e-mail, or by accessing Desire2Learn—the university software learning environment where the policies are stored. Classes, which 10 to 30 sworn and non-sworn personnel attend at one time, cover topics such as grievance procedures, identify theft, and personal mobility vehicles.  

Finally, before a department is accredited, auditors from the accrediting body make an on-site visit and review. Georgia State’s public safety department participated in mock assessments before representatives arrived at the campus, which was valuable, Sampson adds (see sidebar, “On-site Simulation for Success”).

Facing Obstacles

While the process of meeting standards can be methodical, it is not without challenges. For instance, achieving buy-in from all necessary parties can be tricky. At Georgia State, the most difficult part of accreditation was “convincing upper management to trust the process and support us,” Sampson says. “This also included convincing agency personnel of the mission and the changes to come.” 

But Sampson and her staff convinced their coworkers and university leaders to get on board by explaining the benefits it would offer their department and their campus. “It’s fairly easy to sell this to leadership as part of an overall accreditation in all areas,” Sampson
says. “Adherence to law enforcement standards reinforces public confidence in police departments much the same as it does for hospitals and other professional services.” 

In addition to confirming support from all those involved in the process, it can be problematic simply to stick with the process for the long term. It takes a lot of time “to review and revise weak polices, and initiate new policies to meet compliance,” Sampson says. But perseverance pays off with a more reputable, professional department and a safer university campus.

The CBO Role

While the brunt of the work of accreditation rests with staff in the campus public safety department, university leaders play an important role in the process.
“In addition to ensuring that the necessary resources were made available to achieve accreditation, my role was to encourage the department during this lengthy process,” says Villanova’s Valosky. “I believed the department’s professionalism would be enhanced to the benefit of the entire university community. Given the importance of campus safety, especially in light of the unfortunate incidents that continue to occur at colleges and universities, this accreditation has showed that Villanova is proactively working to make our campus safer.”

While earning accreditation can seem insurmountable, departments that have completed the accomplishment say it is doable and worth the effort. “Go one step at a time,” Tedjeske says. “The process may seem daunting at the onset, but keep in mind that you have three years. Also remember that while it is challenging, your peers [and accrediting agencies] want you to succeed. With commitment and attentiveness, it is almost always achievable.”

NANCY MANN JACKSON, Huntsville, Alabama, covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.

Related Topics

By examining the standards and working to meet them, public safety departments develop habits of self-assessment and ongoing improvement.

Currently, 39 institutions have achieved accreditation through IACLEA and 15 more are in the process of pursuing accreditation.