Quincy police work toward accreditation

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Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald Quincy Police Sgt. Chris Lafferty shows Othello Police Sgt. Aaron Garza gear the QPD is required to have in its police cars. Garza is one of five law enforcement officers evaluating the QPD for its accreditation audit on Tuesday.

QUINCY — Michael Painter has been having a busy time of it lately.

“This year has been wearing me out,” said the retired Kent Police Department deputy chief.

Painter is now the director of professional services for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC, pronounced “was-pic”), and he’s been crossing the state this year going through files and grilling law enforcement officers of police departments, sheriff’s offices and even county jails seeking WASPC’s accreditation — it’s seal of approval.

He’s overseen the accreditation audits of 11 law enforcement agencies since May, he said.

“It’s really about agency performance,” Painter said of the accreditation process. “If you ask how well an agency is performing, they will say, ‘we’re performing just fine.’ And I say, how do you know?”

So, WASPC created the accreditation process, a lengthy audit of a law enforcement agency’s processes and procedures, its files and its personnel, to help police officers and sheriff’s deputies learn and institute “best practices” and disciplines inside their agencies.

“I will bring a team of five assessors and go through 137 standards one by one,” Painter said. “The (law enforcement agency) must show compliance with that.”

In Washington, Painter said 50 law enforcement agencies — about a quarter of the agencies in the state — and four jails are currently accredited. Locally, the GCSO is accredited, as are the Ephrata and Othello Police departments.

Quincy isn’t accredited right now, but that’s why Painter and his team of senior police and sheriff’s deputies from across the region are at the Quincy Police Department on Tuesday morning — to go through its files and grills its officers and employees, to see if their standards and paperwork meet WASPC’s standards.

“This started about 8 a.m., we gave them a quick tour of the police department, and then they went right to work,” said Cpt. Ryan Green, the QPD’s accreditation manager.

Lt. Dean Hallatt, the accreditation manager with the Grant County Sheriff’s Office, flips through the papers in a brown file folder, one of many identical folders pulled from plastic document boxes ready for the officers to go through.

An example of a WASPC standard, Hallatt explains that the agency insists all certified officers swear an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the state of Washington, and that evidence that oath is administered be documented and kept by a police department.

“For detectives, an agency has to have a case management system,” Painter added. “They have to have oversight, and they have to show proof.”

“These are our standards,” Hallatt said. “We make a promise, and it’s not always easy to keep.”

Most of the work has already been done, Painter said, since most law enforcement agencies spend months preparing for this audit, go through a mock audit prior to the real thing, and have a WASPC mentor to help oversee things.

Still, like any exam day, it’s not the easiest thing to sit through.

“It was good, it’s a lot of pressure to be under, but they came in and asked me what my standards and processes were,” said Erin Omlin, the evidence technician for the QPD. “And they gave me a lot of information on things that can be improved.”

Omlin said her job is to be the “custodian and property” that comes into the possession of the QPD, whether it’s found, seized in arrest or search, or simply help by the department for safekeeping.

“Protection of major items, like drugs, money and firearms, I have to show what we do to protect all of those things,” Omlin added.

And that includes limits on who can have access to the evidence room and a sign-in log to track those who go in and out.

Among the benefits of being accredited are increased credibility, higher morale, and lower insurance costs. But Painter is emphatic that being accredited primarily shows that the department is committed to professional policing.

“It makes a public statement that the agency is high performing,” he said. “And it’s pretty significant as to what agencies should be doing. They’re not immune from mistakes, but this sets an agency up for success.”

Quincy won’t know whether it passed WASPC’s muster until the agency’s next board of directors meeting in November. But Painter, as he reviews electronic files, is confident.

“So far so good,” he said as he looked up from his computer screen. “I don’t see any issues.”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.

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