State Patrol, BCA begin process to earn national accreditation

The Minnesota State Patrol is embarking on an outside evaluation that, if completed successfully, would give it a level of national accreditation not currently held by any law enforcement in the state.

Both the State Patrol and another state agency, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), have begun the process laid out by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). The goal of the accreditation is ensuring that policies and procedures of the agencies comply with best practices for delivering public safety.

"It's going to make us better," said Col. Matt Langer, head of the State Patrol. He said that's not a reflection "that we are doing something wrong" — but it does come as trooper Ryan Londregan faces murder charges in connection with the fatal shooting of Ricky Cobb II during a traffic stop last summer on I-94 in north Minneapolis.

Langer said that incident was not the impetus for pursuing national accreditation, and that the agency intended to pursue it before the shooting.

"It has everything to do with our core values, and to help us grow as an agency," Langer said. "We are inviting an external entity in to validate and see if we meet standards."

CALEA was formed in 1979 through a joint effort that included some of the nation's major law enforcement associations, including 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. Since then, about 1,400 city, state and university police departments across the nation have earned the accreditation widely seen as the gold standard in law enforcement.

To earn it, the State Patrol and the BCA will have to meet 183 standards covering everything from the simple — like having an oath of office, and dedicated programs to recruit and retain staff — to more complex and complicated issues such as having policies in place that govern police pursuits, the storing and safeguarding of evidence, data systems protections, and narcotics investigations.

The BCA is seeking accreditation for its entire agency, including forensic scientists, IT personnel, and agents. The BCA forensics lab has operated since 1994 under what spokeswoman Jill Oliveira describes as even more complex accreditation requirements, meaning the CALEA process will have to be aligned with that.

An appropriation of $350,000 from the Legislature will cover the costs of earning the accreditation, which could take up to three years to obtain. It also could lead to new training requirements, changes in business practices and "tightening up and making things consistent across the organization," Langer said.

The accreditation is not just a feather in the cap, but forces agencies to take a hard inward look, said Kevin Kittridge, who served as the head of the State Patrol in the 1980s. He pushed for the agency get the accreditation then, but the effort stalled.

"In today's climate, what CALEA does is give you more transparency to the public about what you are doing," said Kittridge, now retired. "With the erosion of trust in police and government, I think it's a good thing they are doing."

Both agencies will have to present their case for accreditation to CALEA officials who conduct reviews from afar and during on-site visits and make the final decision.

"It's like a doctoral dissertation," Langer said of the process. "They challenge what we are doing."

Far from just an in-house exam, a major component of accreditation centers on public feedback. CALEA has an online portal allowing citizens to file commendations, complaints or comments regarding an agency's performance. Comments are part of the accreditation process.

Trooper Gina deCesare, who works in southwest Minnesota, said she's excited the Patrol is seeking accreditation.

"It brings a level of confidence that citizens of Minnesota should expect members of law enforcement to strive for excellence," she said. "This is a tool for all troopers to demonstrate our commitment to the state of Minnesota."