Patrol officers are the backbone of the LaGrange Police Department; the eyes and ears that link the community to the inner workings of headquarters.
Officer Clint Stephens wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It can go from one extreme to another,” he said. ” Some days are slow, others are wide open. On an average day we stay pretty busy answering calls to service … sometimes we get out to talk to people.”
Stephens and his comrades are the face of LPD, but they are also the ones who face intense scrutiny when catching criminals and when something goes wrong. Not just by Public Safety Chief Lou Dekmar and city leaders, but also from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, or CALEA.
CALEA is made up of 21 commissioners who are law enforcement officers plus various elected officials. It’s their job to make sure LPD - and police departments around the country - are in compliance with proper procedures and policies. Essentially, doing their jobs the right way and taking steps to correct problems should an issue arise.
“We must demonstrate within the last three years we were in compliance with 482 applicable standards,” Dekmar explained. “That we in all areas within the organization demonstrate best and accepted law enforcement practices.”
A feat not many law enforcement agencies achieve or receive, but for the sixth time in the LaGrange Police Department’s history, it was re-accredited by CALEA. The department also was awarded the Accreditation with Excellence Award, which only 10 percent of departments receive, Dekmar said.
“For (CALEA) to say that means we have people in our department doing things correctly,” he said. “We have a great staff … this is an editorial of the men and women who work here. They respond everyday to calls for service and consistently do it in a way that distinguishes them and the city.”
A department goes through the accreditation process every three years, which is a long and tedious journey that starts all over again immediately after receiving the honor.
“It’s not an easy process,” said LaGrange Police Accreditation Manager Sgt. Karen Sanders. “It’s not a rubber-stamp process. A lot of work goes in to getting it and keeping it.”
For Sanders, that means keeping three years of files to be maintained and reviewed by her and CALEA. Inside her office a white board is sectioned off and filled with the numbers of each file, plus the corresponding year. It takes up an entire wall.
Sanders said CALEA will scrutinize between 40 to 70 of those files, which include how LPD responded to use of force by police officers, crime analysis, crime trends and patterns, and grievances filed by the community. Members from the CALEA board will also spend three to four days at headquarters interviewing employees chosen at random and talking with people in the community on their perspective of LPD.
“It’s like checks and balances, and helps head off issues before it becomes a problem,” said Sanders.
“It’s so we can give answers on why we do things a certain way,” added Dekmar. “We can ensure we are doing our job in the most effective way.”
Dekmar said going through the accreditation process is voluntary and a challenge not many law enforcement agencies ever complete. To him, the community is the ultimate beneficiary of the accreditation title.
“It’s an assurance that their police department is doing things that will benefit the citizens here,” he said. ” It also results in an effective use of resources.”
“We can always do better,” Dekmar added. ” We’re consistently looking a new technology and practices, and honing them as it relates of LaGrange and crime. But we have those policies and protocols in place to reduce error or (it otherwise would) create a vacuum that results in an unfavorable outcome for the citizen.”
Sanders added: “To the community it says we go above and beyond to do things right. We are living these standards every day.”
It’s no different than what Stephens does on a daily basis when talking with residents in the community.
“I would rather take preventative measures,” he said. “I’d rather be proactive than reactive.”