It took more than two years of work and attention to the smallest of details, but the Oak Harbor Police Department is now accredited by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
The department is one of only 60 departments among the 260 in the state to complete the rigorous accreditation process.
“There’s a reason for that,” Capt. Mike Bailey said. “It’s not easy maintaining these standards.”
Bailey managed the accreditation process, which began with the Loaned Executive Management Assistance Program in January 2017. The director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, known as WASPC, and several police chiefs from other jurisdictions provided the department with a critical review of the organization as a first step toward accreditation.
Oak Harbor Police Chief Kevin Dresker said obtaining accreditation was one of his goals when he was hired. He came from Wenatchee, which was also accredited, and saw the value in that designation.
The ultimate goal of the process, Bailey said, is to ensure that the department abides by best practices in all the different areas of law enforcement. Benefits of accreditation include administrative and operational effectiveness, fair recruitment and employment practices, better records management, improved use of technology, health and safety, training, codes of conduct and prisoner security, according to the department.
“The Oak Harbor Police Department has worked hard to obtain this achievement,” said Steven Strachan, WASPC executive director. “The community should be proud of local law enforcement for taking direct and tangible steps to earn the public’s confidence in their operations.”
Bailey said the association established 137 standards in a comprehensive range of topics, from evidence collection to traffic pursuits to use of force to training. The process has eight phases, including an agency self-assessment, an on-site assessment and evaluation and two separate reviews. The eighth and final phase is reaccreditation, which Bailey said occurs every four years.
Bailey explained that he and his accreditation team went through all of the department’s policies practices with fine-tooth combs.
Dresker said the accreditation process didn’t result in extensive changes in how officers do their jobs, but there were many smaller but important adjustments.
“We didn’t have any major issues,” he said. “Just a lot of clean-up and checking boxes to ensure we are following best practices.”
Bailey said the policy for evidence collection, for example, was modified to ensure “the best possible chain of custody.”
A policy about officers wearing reflective clothing during traffic control was changed from “should” to “shall.” Officers now get copies instead of original reports returned to them for follow-up.
The department had to show “proof” that the department was following the policies, Bailey said. Police reports, for example, that contain the necessary elements were shared with the association.
One of the larger administrative projects was creating a strategic plan, which Bailey said the department never had before in the 35 years he’s worked there.
In addition, the two captains in the department will submit annual reports that analyze use of force cases, internal investigations, pursuits and bias-based policing.