SOUTH PORTLAND — Police Chief Ed Googins’ long-standing desire for a nationally accredited department came closer to fruition this week.
On Monday, Nov. 27, members of the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies began a three-day visit to review department operations and practices.
“One of the things the public can take away is, they can have even more confidence in how we police and serve this community,” Googins said Tuesday. “Any resident knowing we have gone through this process can have that level of comfort.”
The visitors were Carl Schinner, police chief of La Plata, Maryland, a town of about 10,000 people southeast of Washington, D.C, and Christopher Ciuci, deputy chief of the Berlin, Connecticut, Police Department; Berlin is south of Hartford, with a population approaching 20,000.
They and Googins hosted a public hearing Nov. 28 at the South Portland Community Center, where people were invited to comment on the department and its operations and the 189 standards that are part of the accrediting process.
The hearing was sparsely attended; two speakers praised the department for its efforts to curb youth substance use and asked how well the department can respond to people in need of help with mental health issues.
Schinner, who said he helps assess departments two or three times a year, said the assessment team also took phone calls earlier in the day, was riding along with officers, and checking files and records to measure how well city police are meeting the standards.
The list and details of standards are extensive enough to fill an inch-thick binder, available to view at the police station, 30 Anthoine St., Lt. Frank Clark said. Clark is managing the process and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 799-5511, ext. 7242, with questions or comments.
Googins said he’s been interested in a national accrediting since becoming chief in 1994, and, to his knowledge, CALEA is the only agency providing the service.
The Biddeford Police Department is also in the CALEA self-assessment phase. Police in Auburn, Lewiston and Orono, and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, are accredited by CALEA.
If the assessment determines the department is in compliance, South Portland Police would be accredited for four years and be required to report annually on its compliance standards.
“You need the scrutiny to know where you stand,” Googins said.
Googins said obtaining CALEA accreditation will bring the department recognition, while also keeping it attuned to the best practices nationally. Schinner added the accreditation can also lead to discounts on liability and workers compensation insurance premiums.
The process began in 2015 when the department received a $20,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice and began a self-assessment and the application process. As part of the assessment, the department soon found it would need to improve its methods of storing and securing evidence, Googins said. Better storage lockers and cameras cost about $16,000.
Googins noted the law enforcement landscape has changed in the last decade, and the use of body cameras is part of the latest CALEA standards. However, introducing them for use in the city was done independently of the accreditation process.
Carl Schinner, left, police chief of La Plata, Maryland, chats with South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins following a Nov. 28 public hearing on department accreditation at the South Portland Community Center.