For five years now, Polk State’s Kenneth C. Thompson Institute of Public Safety has belonged to an elite group of law-enforcement training academies — those that have made meticulous improvements and passed rigorous inspections, all to receive a coveted, internationally recognized accreditation.
It’s a feat that only two dozen training academies in the country have accomplished.
KCTIPS trains those beginning careers in law enforcement, as well as those seeking advanced law-enforcement training. In 2007, it first received accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement, or CALEA as it is commonly called in law-enforcement circles.
“We are constantly striving for a culture of educational and operational excellence. CALEA provides the framework in the standards, but our desire is to exceed those standards and to be the best,” said Capt. Bill Mann, KCTIPS director.
Established in 1979, CALEA provides law-enforcement agencies, public safety communications agencies, campus security forces, and training academies with dozens of best practices covering every aspect of what they do. For law-enforcement agencies, for example, CALEA standards address everything from recruitment, to the use of force, to file management, to the setup of interview rooms and holding cells.
Agencies seeking accreditation must meet the ultimate objectives of CALEA standards, but how they do so is up to them; for instance, CALEA requires that agencies have an organizational chart, but it doesn’t dictate how those charts are arranged.
The CALEA accreditation process begins with a self-assessment, followed by an on-site assessment by a team of trained inspectors who delve into an agency’s records, examine its facilities, and meet with the public about the service it provides. After the on-site assessment, CALEA commissioners have the final say in whether or not to grant accreditation.
Accredited agencies must meet CALEA’s mandatory standards and a certain percentage of non-mandatory standards. Approximately 1,200 agencies overall hold CALEA accreditation; the majority are in the U.S., but CALEA does have accredited agencies in a handful of other countries, including Canada and Mexico.
The work associated with CALEA doesn’t end with accreditation — in fact that’s just the beginning. While agencies seeking initial accreditation must show what they plan to do to meet CALEA standards, those seeking reaccreditation must prove — in the form of diligent documentation — that they are in fact doing all they said they would to comply with CALEA. To maintain accreditation, agencies must undergo the assessment process every three years.
The point of CALEA — and the reason it is so sought-after — is that by meeting nationally recognized standards, agencies improve the quality of service they provide.
“With CALEA accreditation, an agency can demonstrate that its policies comport with national and international standards,” said Andrew Scott, former Boca Raton police chief, former CALEA assessment team leader, and now a law enforcement consultant.
CALEA’s Public Safety Training Academy Accreditation Program began in 2002, and includes more than 150 standards divided into categories such as direction and authority; human resources; recruitment, selection, employment and promotion; instructional systems; training administration; instructors; and students.
KCTIPS has maintained its accreditation since the initial award five years ago, an effort that falls largely to Joan Nathans, accreditation manager.
Nathans joined the College in 2007 after a 20-year career in medical compliance, including work as a health information manager and office manager.
In many ways — despite the almost foreign, acronym-laden language used in law enforcement — the job she is doing at Polk State is very much like her previous work. In her previous career she audited medical records, now she audits class files. Previously, she requested physicians to complete their paperwork, now she is requesting paperwork from departments across the College to prove KCTIPS is meeting CALEA standards.
“I’m using all my skills from the healthcare field. It’s all about doing what we say we’re doing,” she said.
By abiding by CALEA standards and maintaining accreditation, KCTIPS is certainly improving the quality of the recruits it trains, Scott said.
“Any chief would want to acquire recruits from a facility that’s been nationally accredited. Other training facilities that aren’t accredited haven’t bellied up to the bar to prove how good they are, so to speak,” Scott said.
“The CALEA standards are going to require specific types of testing mechanisms and hold the accredited training facility to a higher standard in terms of testing, cognitive performance, and actual engagement in scenario-based training. The recruits are going to be put to more of a test to measure their competencies, whereas at a facility that is not accredited, maybe their policies are not as stringent.”
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said recruits who train at KCTIPS do indeed stand out in numerous ways. The Sheriff’s Office is one of several law enforcement agencies that partner with KCTIPS; Mann is employed by the PCSO.
“Our recruits are simply among the best in the state — we are a model for others to emulate. This is a direct result of the high accreditation standards adopted by our curricula and professional training staff. In our daily lives, we would never consider going for medical care at a hospital that wasn’t accredited, nor would we want our children attending universities that were not accredited. Accreditation means professionalism, it means high standards, it means success,” Judd said.
“Standardized training based on best practices means better training. Teaching at the highest professional level, along with maintaining the highest expectations, produces the highest level of qualified recruits.”
Lakeland Police Department Chief Lisa Womack agreed.
“We are very proud of the cadets who choose Polk State College’s Kenneth C. Thompson Institute of Public Safety as their educational choice. We work very closely with the administration and staff to see that the academic programs have the highest standards and integrity, which will place our cadets at the top of their profession upon graduation,” said Womack, also one of the 11 law-enforcement professionals nationwide who are currently serving as CALEA commissioners.
KCTIPS is now preparing for its second CALEA reaccreditation, and this time it is aiming for CALEA’s Accreditation with Excellence, a designation bestowed upon organizations with an especially good track record in meeting CALEA’s standards.
In crafting his Accreditation with Excellence application, Mann has plenty of material, including:
- Every year, KCTIPS solicits input from the members of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Region VIII Training Advisory Council through a customer satisfaction survey. In the last three years, 96 percent of responses to survey questions have been positive. Ninety-six percent of responses were also favorable on a 2011 FDLE Customer Satisfaction Survey of KCTIPS’ client agencies, which are predominately police departments in Polk County and the PCSO.
- In the last several years, 11 training academies from across the nation have either visited KCTIPS, reviewed its General Orders, or otherwise used KCTIPS as a resource as they consider pursuing their own CALEA accreditation.
- KCTIPS modified its selection process to ensure higher-quality recruits would be admitted, which contributed to a 96-percent pass rate on the State Officer Certification Exam from May 2011 to May 2012, compared with the state average of 86 percent.
- During the three-year period since its last reaccreditation, KCTIPS has revised its General Orders more than 50 times to improve its policies and procedures.
Perhaps not to be included in the Accreditation with Excellence application, but certainly telling, are the experiences of KCTIPS recruits such as Philip Lyle.
Lyle, 44, spent 20 years in waste collection as a commercial driver and driver trainer. With two of his three sons grown, Lyle decided to finally pursue his interest in law enforcement.
He graduated from KCTIPS in May and is now undergoing training through PCSO. He should be a sworn officer in only a matter of weeks — and KCTIPS has prepared him well for the change.
“When you make a career change or a job change, you sometimes aren’t sure about the future and you’re worried because you’re leaving behind what you know,” Lyle said. “But with the instructors and the structure of KCTIPS, you feel like you’re totally prepared walking onto the job. You’ve been given everything you need to know.”