Montgomery County Sheriff's Department receives re-accreditation

Joe Blackburn, the Accreditation Project Coordinator of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, left, presents the re-accreditation plaque to Montgomery County Sheriff Eileen Behr. Photo by Dan Clark/Times Herald Staff.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY — After three years of assessment, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department received re-accreditation from the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association on June 6.

“To sheriff Behr and the men and women of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, and to the citizens of Montgomery County, you have every right to be very proud of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department,” said Joe Blackburn, the Accreditation Project Coordinator of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association.

The Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association introduced the accreditation program in 1991. It was developed by professional law enforcement executives to provide a reasonable, cost effective plan to raise the professional level of law enforcement agencies across the commonwealth.

“Accreditation is nothing new, it is a time proven and progressive way of helping organizations reach a higher level of professionalization,” Blackburn said.

It is a method and an ongoing process to make sure that law enforcement agencies are in compliance with national standards.

Law enforcement departments in Pennsylvania, when applying for accreditation and re-accreditation, face a list of 132 standards they have to meet. The standards include organization and management, law enforcement functions, staff support responsibilities.

“The standards include such areas as use of force, fiscal management, disciplinary procedures, the selection of deputies, management of cells and holding areas and property and evidence control, just to name a few,” Blackburn said.

The process of becoming accredited begins with enrolling in the program and is followed by a self-assessment, which is followed by mock assessments.

“When an agency feels they are ready, they contact our office and we send out assessors on site,” Blackburn explained.

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department was first accredited in 2010 and was the first sheriff’s department to become accredited in Pennsylvania.

“Some say the reaccreditation is even harder than the initial accreditation because they must show proofs of compliance for all the standards for each of the three years,” Blackburn said.

The process of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department becoming reaccredited involved inspectors interviewing deputies and accompanying deputies while they performed their duties.

Of the 132 standards, 112 were applicable. Not all of the files were accepted by the team leader and not all of the standards were accepted by the assessors.

“This program was built on integrity, you either meet the standards or you don’t meet the standards and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department has met all of the standards,” Blackburn said.

Striving for excellence in service was constant throughout the assessment process.

The commission voted unanimously to give re-accredited status to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s department and that was followed by unanimous approval by the executive board of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association.

Less than 10 percent of Pennsylvania law agencies have been awarded accredited status.

“We look to the deputies for input on the process, it takes the whole department, but again this process was led by Sergeant Stewart,” Eileen Behr, the Sheriff of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department said.

Sheriff Behr said that this re-accreditation sets the standard not only for the sheriff’s department, but also for future deputies.

“For those who want to join the department, the bar is set high. They’ll know that we seek to maintain and achieve that accreditation and those standards.”

The accreditation process is ongoing. According to Sheriff Behr, the hard process of interviews takes about 18 months. It is a continuing process throughout the three years between accreditations.

Behr said that the department is continually working on meeting accreditation standards. Someone from the department attends the monthly meetings, and there are seminars that representatives from the department need to go to. The department will be up for reaccreditation again in 2016.

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