STARKVILLE, Miss.--When approved early next year, the Mississippi State University Police Department will become the first at a Mississippi institution of higher learning and just the third law enforcement unit statewide to hold national accreditation.
Based on a campus visit and the assessment of a team of law officers, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies is recommending that its membership grant the designation to MSU. Formal approval will be made at CALEA's national meeting in Birmingham, Ala., in March.
"CALEA is the country's only accrediting organization for law enforcement agencies," said MSU Police Chief Tom Johnson. "In addition to the United States, it provides a professional stamp of approval to agencies in Canada and Mexico."
Johnson said accreditation requires a local department to comply with more than 440 standards that represent the best practices of law enforcement. Participation is voluntary.
Based in Fairfax, Va., the commission was established as an independent authority in 1979 by four major associations: International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, National Sheriff's Association, and Police Executive Research Forum.
The cities of Hattiesburg and Madison were the first two in Mississippi to gain CALEA accreditation.
CALEA's assessment team for MSU included Deputy Police Chief William Price of Vernon Hills, Ill.; Police Chief Donald Bowen of Lebanon, Tenn.; and Program Support Specialist Denise Linkenhoker of the Virginia Tech University Police Department.
"This has been a three-year process of self-study and improvement by the 37 men and women of the MSU Police Department," Johnson said. "We are very proud of their accomplishments."
Johnson gave special recognition to Officer Terry Wheeler, the department's accreditation manager. "Terry has done an outstanding job in this very demanding role," he said.
In addition to enhancing the department's professionalism, Johnson said benefits of CALEA accreditation include, among others, a minimization of departmental exposure to liability and the ongoing guidance necessary for "engaging the best practices of law enforcement."
Johnson said the department, a part of MSU's Division of Student Affairs, hopes to serve as a model for other state law enforcement agencies seeking both state and national accreditation.
"This process has been very long and challenging," Johnson said. "For those reasons alone, we are happy to assist others who may wish to volunteer for the process."
MSU's top law enforcement officer since 1997, Johnson is a Pensacola, Fla., native who formerly led the Marshall University department. He holds a bachelor's degree, with highest honors, from Troy (Ala.) State University and a master's in psychology from the University of West Florida in Pensacola. He also has been pursuing a doctorate in education at MSU.
NEWS EDITORS/DIRECTORS: For additional information, contact Chief Tom Johnson at (662) 325-2121.