By Mimi Wood, Island Eye News Staff Writer
Notorious for its strict enforcement of the speed limit, the Island’s Finest are generally loved, appreciated and respected by IOP residents.
Reciprocally, under the leadership of Chief Thomas E. Buckhannon III, the Isle of Palms Police Department “wants the citizens to feel as if the department is part of the community.”
One significant, yet little known way of showing their deep commitment to the island is through the IOPPD’s voluntary participation in an international organization called CALEA, the Commission for the Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies. Voluntary, because accreditation doesn’t come easy.
Rigorous inspections, meticulous documentation and record keeping, ongoing interaction with the community, and innovative crime prevention programs just begin to describe the effort it takes to obtain and maintain accreditation. “We open our files, and show compliance to 485 standards,” explained Buckhannon.
In fact, because of CALEA’s arduous standards, a scant “4 percent of law enforcement agencies participate in the program,” approximates John Gregory, a retired police chief, now a Regional Program Director for CALEA.
So it was with great pride that the IOPPD recently accepted its sixth accreditation, this time a Meritorious Accreditation, having maintained accreditation for over 15 consecutive years. A team of trained assessors descends upon the Public Safety building, scrutinizing the department on a wide range of procedures, both public, such as use of force and ticketing procedures, as well as internal matters, like budgetary, hiring and disciplinary processes, and evidentiary procedures.
“We are assessed on the physical management of the agency and the property. Pretty much everything from A to Z,” explained Captain Kimberly Usry.
The findings of the on-site assessment are then presented to a review committee at a public hearing, where citizen comments are accepted.
“The Isle of Palms is a unique community,” Mayor Dick Cronin anecdotally repeated the words of one assessor, a judge from Wyoming, “people wave to the police with more than one finger.”
The cycle repeats itself every three years. Consequently, this isn’t a “scratch-it-off-the-list” endeavor; it’s an ongoing, continuous process. Adhering to CALEA’s standards has “become integrated into the department,” stated Usry, “it is a way of life.”
Not only was the department honored, Buckhannon himself was presented with the prestigious Egon Bittner Award, a CALEA designation that “recognizes leaders for their significant contribution to the public safety profession” according to the CALEA website. In his 22 years as Chief, Buckhannon’s department has been in the accreditation process for 17.
“I decided in 1999 I wanted to show the citizens of the island we were committed to being the best we can be,” Buckhannon explained, and so the initial process began. A little more than two years later, on March 23, 2002, the IOPPD was awarded its first accreditation.
Buckhannon hopes the CALEA accreditation “shows we are professional; that we adhere to the industry’s best practices.”