OnPolicing Blog

CALEA Accreditation – A Platform for Excellence and Reform

September 8, 2017

Jim Burch

Jim Burch

Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, National Policing Institute

Jim Burch

Jim Burch

Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, National Policing Institute

The National Policing Institute’s mission is to advance policing through innovation and science. We pursue this mission by consistently seeking opportunities to impact the profession we were created to serve.

Many opportunities to impact policing exist – new technologies emerge and evolve constantly.  New tactics and strategies are always debated. New research and analysis on programs and approaches are typically within reach.

With our highly decentralized structure of law enforcement in the U.S., innovative practices typically emerge in one agency or jurisdiction and with luck and leadership, may spread to others, adapted along the way according to individual preferences and requirements.

What is far less common are opportunities for “one to many” innovations and change, where one action or intervention creates changes in many agencies or jurisdictions at nearly the same time. Certainly, federal and state case law has had an impact, but the courts are not typically, nor should they be thought of as a source for best practice in policing.

Other levers – such as federal policymaking – can also have impact, but it lacks the ability to take important local variations into consideration and fails the “one-size fits all” and federalism tests. Seemingly, no acceptable opportunity exists to advance our profession in a consistent, practitioner-informed way.

“What, Not How” – CALEA Accreditation

The National Policing Institute believes that national accreditation – specifically, accreditation made possible through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc., (CALEA®) – provides such an opportunity.

CALEA was created in 1979 with the support of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the National Sheriffs Association (NSA), National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). The purpose of CALEA is to improve the delivery of public safety services, primarily by: maintaining a body of standards, developed by public safety practitioners, covering a wide range of up-to-date public safety initiatives; establishing and administering an accreditation process; and recognizing professional excellence.

CALEA law enforcement standards cover role, responsibilities, and relationships with other agencies; organization, management, and administration; personnel administration; law enforcement operations, operational support, and traffic law enforcement; detainee and court-related services; and auxiliary and technical services.

Additional standards are available for communications centers and training academies. To achieve CALEA accreditation, agencies must demonstrate compliance with more than 460 national standards, as appropriate for the agency’s size and functions.

Most importantly, CALEA accreditation standards are practitioner-informed and developed, and many are influenced by evidence-based practices. CALEA provides agencies with a blueprint for “what, not how” to allow for necessary adaptation to local conditions.  A change made in one CALEA standard can impact hundreds of agencies nearly simultaneously, without the challenges of federal, state or judicial policymaking, where one size is often expected and/or required to fit all.

Policy Gaps Lead to Risk and Bad Outcomes

I provided staff support to a police department’s initial accreditation effort almost 30 years ago. In doing so, I have observed the benefits of CALEA accreditation from within an agency, witnessing discussions about creating policies where none currently existed.

With hundreds of standards covering many aspects of operations and administration, these conversations continue to occur today. For example, a recent Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report found that as of January 2013 (the latest data available), 14% of law enforcement agencies serving small jurisdictions (less than 10,000 people) did not have a vehicle pursuit policy. Outside of small jurisdictions, 7% of local police departments and sheriffs offices did not have vehicle pursuit policies.

Effective and reasonable policies crafted through an informed and balanced process, can protect officers, citizens, agencies and local government from errant decision making, tactics, litigation and other harms. CALEA standards cover challenging issues, including biased policing, employee rights, deadly force and associated data collection and analysis, job task analysis and recruiting, transparency and more. As we contemplate the value of accreditation, we must ask what policing would be like in an agency that did not have policies in these critical areas.

Unclear Research Evidence

A review of research evidence – a perspective we are compelled to take – reveals positive, neutral and negative (no impact) findings regarding the impact of accreditation on law enforcement agencies.

One possible explanation for these results is that we have not yet adequately designed an evaluation to understand the true benefits of CALEA accreditation. Studies attempting to assess correlates between accreditation and crime or complaint reductions for example, may be misaligned or unrealistic given the variety of factors that can impact these types of outcomes.

While the reform, professionalism and other communities have at times admired “administrative rulemaking” and touted the benefits of policies based on best practices, we have more work to do. More thoughtful, practitioner-informed assessments of accreditation and the absence and impact of individual standards must be considered and studied. As policies are established, business operations change and conform, bringing about potentially positive changes, without an obvious external impact detectable in crime and other data.

Our Partnership with CALEA

The National Policing Institute has recently partnered with CALEA to provide research and technical support to accredited agencies. Over the last year, in packed rooms at CALEA conferences, we have shared the results of our analysis into several important standards-related areas at the request of CALEA, including analysis of equal employment opportunity and recruitment planning, decertification practices, near miss reporting and analysis, and event deconfliction systems and practices.

These materials are intended to assist agencies in their pursuit of accreditation and in developing the most effective, research-informed if not evidence-based policies and procedures.

In addition to this partnership, CALEA and the National Policing Institute are working together to support the professionalization of policing in Mexico. This partnership offers accreditation to more than 20 state and local law enforcement, training academies and communications centers throughout Mexico, with the support of the U.S. Department of State.

CALEA offers the only national, practitioner and research informed system of standards for law enforcement. There is no better policy platform for advancing policing than CALEA accreditation.


Jim Burch is the Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at the National Policing Institute, where he leads the Foundation’s national and international programs and partnerships to strengthen policing through innovation and science. Prior to joining the National Policing Institute, he served in a variety of positions during his 20-year tenure at the Department of Justice, including Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Operations and Management at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs and as the Acting Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance from 2009 to 2011.

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Jim Burch

Jim Burch

Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, National Policing Institute

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