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As the Federal Bureau of Investigation continues its probe into alleged civil rights abuses by police in a 2007 bakery robbery, the department is racing to meet a self-imposed deadline to show they meet standards of excellence.
The Burbank Police Department is voluntarily participating in a program through the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies, or CALEA, an independent agency with ties to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Burbank City Council awarded $22,000 in 2011 that will cover the cost of applying and the first three years of accreditation, police said.
The roughly three-year process involves reviewing 480 accreditation standards and comparing those to Burbank’s current policies and practices.
Burbank is completing this self-assessment phase, and if all goes well, accreditation could be awarded this summer, police said.
There are currently five municipal law enforcement agencies in California that are accredited, including the Fresno and Garden Grove police departments, according to the CALEA website.
“It puts us in an elite group of people,” Police Chief Scott LaChasse said. “It should give officers pride to know we’ve been able to elevate ourselves by going through accreditation.”
CALEA accreditation and the almost constant review of policy it requires could be one of the keys to helping the department finally let go of its past.
In addition to peeking the interest of the FBI, the Porto’s Bakery robbery prompted investigations by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
To the city’s credit, it has since brought in professional oversight to train the Police Commission to be better watchdogs of the police department. Oversight also includes the random selection of police cases to ensure police follow proper procedure and that any discipline matches the transgression.
But despite achievements under a new command staff that include the creation of its mental health team, among a handful in Los Angeles County; the debut of a modern website; and making its arrest logs public; lawsuits by former and current police officers filed a few years after the robbery are in various stages of the legal process.
CALEA, founded in 1979 through a grant from the department of justice, was created by four executive law enforcement organizations, including the International Association of Police Chiefs, according to the CALEA website. Riots in the 1960s and 1970s led many to question the professionalism, integrity, training and hiring practices of law enforcement, and resulted in the establishment of a body of standards that police departments could voluntarily subject themselves to.
LaChasse said the CALEA process is similar to “having a forensic auditor here. It’s very comprehensive.”
He said CALEA accreditation “demonstrates to the public and outside government entities that are looking at us that we’re not afraid of being open or transparent.”
LaChasse added: “The department has come a long way.”
Lt. Armen Dermenjian, an 18-year veteran who LaChasse appointed to the task, has been working on the accreditation process since fall 2011.
Dermenjian said once police complete the self assessment, an on-site review could take place by April.
The visit by CALEA officials would also include a meeting with residents. The meeting would be publicized and CALEA officials want to not only ensure Burbank police have all the proper policies in place, but want to see how the community view their police department, Dermenjian said.
CALEA requires an organization to annually review all policies for changes or additions, Dermenjian said.
“We may have a 20-year policy, followed for 20 years without review,” Dermenjian said. “In the ever-changing world we live in now, it is crucial to review policy.”
CALEA wants you to have the right policy so you can follow it and wants to see that you are indeed following it, Dermenjian said. The annual estimated cost to maintain accreditation is $5,000.
“There are almost always two parts: do you have the policy and are your people following the policy?” he said.
Dermenjian said he likes doing the work although sometimes it requires a walk to the Starbucks a few blocks away.
“It can drive a person crazy reading policy all day,” he added.
“I think it’s important work,” Dermenjian said. “I’m a strong believer in CALEA. It’s not something that’s going to make a bad organization into an exemplary organization by itself. Agencies in the CALEA process have to believe in CALEA.
“Those are the agencies that will benefit. The main reason [to do it] is CALEA forces an organization to look at itself…to ask 480 questions about how and why things are being done.”
Dermenjian said the accreditation process is important even for an exemplary organization.
“The organization might be perfectly healthy,” Dermenjian said, “but that doesn’t mean it should stop living healthy.”