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Op/ed: How Accreditation Improves Policing

Public Policy Researcher Cites Widespread Support for Competency-Enhancing Measure

By Cullen Merritt and Gordon Abner

police car with lights flashing at night

Accreditation of police departments would help improve the quality and esteem of law enforcement agencies, a UMD researcher and a colleague write in a new essay.

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About every two minutes in the United States, someone sustains an injury at the hands of a law enforcement officer, and about 600 members of the public lose their lives annually in police interactions. An escalating global outcry that followed high-profile killings by police—including the 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis—has intensified the discussion about whether police departments should be independently accredited.

(The University of Maryland Police Department is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.)

In a new essay in Governing, Cullen C. Merritt, public policy associate professor and research director of the Institute for Public Leadership, and Gordon Abner, assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin's Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, argue that accreditation of law enforcement agencies nationwide could boost public confidence while giving police departments an effective way to increase competence and resolve issues before they become crises.

Unlike universities and hospitals, the vast majority of police departments in the United States are not accredited. This is despite the fact that police accreditation has been endorsed by President Biden, President Trump, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Police Executive Research Forum. Moreover, public opinion research has found that two-thirds of the U.S. adult population supports having their local police department earn accreditation.

Costs—for associated fees as well as for staff resources required to document compliance with standards—are one reason for the low uptake of police accreditation. But an additional reason is that there is little research regarding accreditation’s effectiveness. Consequently, we conducted qualitative interviews with law enforcement personnel who have knowledge and experience with accreditation to identify what they believe are its perceived advantages, if any.

Read the rest in Governing.



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