COVINGTON — The staff at the Newton County Sheriff's Office is dotting the "i's" and crossing the "t's to ensure that its office can stand tall next to any department in the nation. Sheriff Ezell Brown has announced they are aiming for accreditation through the Georgia Police Accreditation Coalition, with an ultimate goal of national accreditation.
"All goals are a major undertaking; however the state certification has required more dedication and hard work to meet such a significant milestone. It has required more time and effort of every employee and team member with the Sheriff's Office," Brown said.
Brown listed the attainment of state certification among the seven goals he implemented upon taking office and said to-date that goal is 98 percent complete.
Lt. Keith Crum is in charge of the accreditation process for the NCSO and admits becoming accredited is hard work, but feels it is well worth the effort.
"It allows the departments to look and see what the standard of service is throughout the United States for law enforcement and in what areas we can improve in and in what areas we're already meeting those standards," he said.
The GPAC was formed by the Georgia Sheriff's Association and the Georgia Chiefs of Police Association and is tailored to Georgia law enforcement. A two-member team of assessors will spend two days at the NCSO certifying that all criteria necessary for accreditation are being met. The cost to the NCSO will be $300, plus room and board for the assessors.
"We've been preparing for this for a year and a half," Crum said. "We went through all of the department's standard operating procedures and compared them to the standards outlined by GPAC. You can't just write standards and say you're going to do it and that's it. You have to prove that you actually are doing it."
Crum said folders have been created for every standard in the department. That was compared and if necessary adjusted to match the GPAC standard. Then documentation and in some cases photos were added to the file to prove that the standards are being met.
"For instance, if it says we're going to have vehicle inspections every so often, we have forms showing that we're doing vehicle inspections and maybe photos," he said.
Crum said most of the criteria were already being met, but the paperwork wasn't being managed in such a way that they could document it.
"We were already doing a lot of it. There was some things that were new to us, that we hadn't done in the past. It's just a lot of paperwork right now ... it's a lot of making sure we've got the SOPS (standard operating procedures) in place and we've done the training and folks are aware of what the SOPS are and how to implement them," he said.
Crum said there are more than 100 different standards that must be met and those standards are often broken down into several components and individual points.
"I would imagine there's going to be around 130 standards that we'll have to meet," he said.
Crum and another deputy have attended school to become assessors and have done a "mock assessment" for the NCSO.
"We spent three days, just like we were a team coming in from somewhere else, going over our files. We found some things we needed to add or needed to modify," he said. "We've done that and we're getting ready to go through our second in-house mock."
Even more practice is planned. Following their second mock assessment, a team from GPAC will come in and also do a mock assessment before the real assessment is conducted.
Crum said he's hopeful the department will attain certification by the fall.
"We're going to make sure we've got it as good as we can. This is the first time for everyone. It's a learning process, but I think we're getting real close to being ready," Crum said.
The certification process will be repeated every three years; however, three years from now, the assessors will be looking back on records for 2012, 2013 and 2014, so staying accredited is an ongoing process.
"This is going to help us be more efficient with what we've got," Crum said, adding that staff reductions have hit the department hard. "We're down to the bone right now and we're trying to squeeze out every bit of efficiency we can with the equipment and people we have right now."
He said the staff had been enthusiastic and had participated fully in the accreditation process.
"We know what we're doing and why. When we were developing the SOPs ... we had representatives from all the different divisions with the sheriff's department come and meet in the training room and had two days going over the new SOPS. They were encouraged to give their input and they made their suggestions," he said. "It's been a process where everyone has had some input into it, not just one person dictating what's going on."
He said one of the major benefits of the process has been that employees can now determine what steps they need to take to prepare themselves for advancement within the department.
"Say you're a patrol officer and you're interested in going to CID and be an investigator ... we've set up job descriptions, minimum qualifications and preferred qualifications," he explained. "What the preferred qualifications do is list the schools and training that aspiring investigators should be taking so that if there is an opening in CID, they will be better prepared and better able to step in and start functioning immediately. It gives deputies the opportunity to prepare more for the direction they want to go and gives them a career path to follow."
Crum said the Newton County Detention Center is also going through a separate accreditation process.
The sheriff said he wanted to thank his employees for the efforts they are making.
"I am extremely proud of the men and women of this agency who have worked long and hard to see that standards are being met. Becoming certified at the state level is yet another step to bring the Sheriff's Office to the forefront of modern law enforcement. We are striving to meet and exceed expectations of the program. We continue to make the community a safe place to live and a place that all would like to call home, young and old alike."