News & Opinion » Currents Feature

Accreditation to Its Race

TPD hopes to win national certification while it rushes to remedy recent PR disasters.


Despite one of the rockiest periods in its history, the Tucson Police Department seems to have a lock on the blessing of a group that certifies law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Tucson Police Chief Richard Miranda says he expects to hear that the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Incorporated will certify TPD on November 17. CALEA, a Virginia-based private organization, has been certifying law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and Canada since 1979. CALEA's Web site ( states that the commission was formed through the collaboration of four law enforcement organizations: the International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, National Sheriffs' Association and Police Executive Research Forum.

Miranda flatly rejects the notion that the application for CALEA certification has anything to do with recent bad publicity and subsequent investigations over TPD's handling of the riot on Fourth Avenue after the University of Arizona men's basketball team's loss in the NCAA tournament in March--or any of the other high-profile cases that have gotten the force unwanted attention of late.

The recent blemishes on TPD's usually smooth complexion include some firings of officers involved in sexual misconduct, the demotions and allegations of a cover-up related to a high-ranking officer's high-speed wreck, the disappearance of a six-figure sum by a local multi-agency task force (which includes TPD personnel), an officer homicide-suicide and a string of overturned officer firings.

The last major hurdle in certification was, apparently, just passed when a team of CALEA board members came to Tucson August 18-23 to look at TPD's operations and personnel and listen to public comment. All that remains in the three-year process, Miranda said, is his personal interview with CALEA board members.

At least based on testimony at the informal hearing, Tucsonans don't seem too worked up about certification. The meeting, held August 20 at the Main Library, drew mostly TPD boosters and only a couple of citizens with relatively mild complaints about the 1,000-officer force.

Major James D. Fox, of the Henrico County (near Richmond) Virginia Police Department, and the two other CALEA board members here for the on-site inspection and hearing, seemed to take a sincere interest when they heard Joyce Smith complain that TPD officers had routinely and repeatedly dismissed her complaints about tenants and trespassers, treated her rudely and, in one case, commented as they drove off that the complainant and suspect were just "a bunch of lesbians."

The other anti-certification speakers were more reserved in their criticism and careful not to condemn the entire department. Jean Teneza, a former Tucson resident now living in Rio Rico, spoke out in support of Thomas Schenek, a TPD officer whom she said was unjustly fired for shooting an unarmed man. Teneza urged the board to deny certification for mishandling its investigation of the shooting investigation. A security guard, Michael Schenek, the brother of the fired officer, complained that TPD officers never jailed suspects but rather routinely "cited and field released" violent repeat offenders he and his co-workers detained, allowing them to return day after day.

Nor did the board members seem particularly cheered by the parade of citizens who stood up to testify strongly in favor of certification for TPD. One TPD fan, who effusively praised the department for dutifully dismissing ne'er-do-wells from his UA-area rental properties, went so far as to sign off with a heartfelt "God bless America" before taking his seat. Others cheered TPD for community outreach in the form of crime prevention or backing up an adjacent jurisdiction's law enforcement agency.

Despite his belief that TPD will pass muster, Miranda said the official visit was hardly a backslapping party. "They got off the plane at 4 or 5 p.m. and they were riding the streets that evening. They never cracked a smile. They were really trying to separate themselves from me, letting me know they were serious."

To hear Miranda tell it, the main benefit of having these outsiders turn TPD inside out is to make it easier for him to accomplish some of the things he says he set out to do when he took the chief's job. "When I took over in '98," Miranda said, "one of the things I wanted to do was look at our agency from top to bottom. And looking at accreditation was going to force it to do that. Bring (TPD) up to national standards."

It's not very sexy stuff, but Miranda says the self-examination--in the form of the annual section-by-section internal audits required to maintain CALEA certification--will improve the agency by forcing it to codify its procedures.

Certification could also, he allows, help in the annual funding struggles with the City Council since certification requires adequate facilities. Once you have certification, Fox agreed, there is a strong incentive to pass the recertification process every three years.

In particular, Miranda says, getting and maintaining certification will probably involve another upgrade of TPD's communications system and expansion of what he says is TPD's overflowing evidence storage facility. He said preliminary word is that those items will be significant issues in TPD's case for certification.

CALEA's public Web site, however, spells out some other benefits, including "stronger defense against lawsuits and citizen complaints" and lower insurance rates.

Fox, however, insists that accreditation has tangible social benefits for the community, as well as the cops, especially in terms of the touchy-feely community relations stuff some police agencies find hard to pull off.

CALEA, said Fox, makes sure the cops "walk the talk."

Accreditation by CALEA would put TPD in the company of a few large and many medium to small law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. and Canada, somewhere between agencies as different as the 5,000-member Pennsylvania State Police and the 16-member Coal City, Ill. force. (Arizona agencies already accredited include Tempe, Scottsdale, Phoenix, Chandler, the three state university police departments, Pima Community College's Department of Public Safety and the Tucson International Airport Police, among others.)

Fox said many things count in the accreditation process, with a lot of emphasis put on community involvement (handling of complaints, outreach to minority members of the community) as well as technical areas such as training, communications, facilities and documentation. He said that would include the handling of specific incidents and cases.

Add a comment