In the spotlight

Johnston PD reflects on accreditation process, benefits

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The Johnston Police Department was in the spotlight recently when Capt. Matthew Benson conducted a question-and-answer session with the Rhode Island Police Accreditation Commission last month.

RIPAC highlighted the JPD as an agency that has received its accreditation status, which became official three years ago. Benson said that former Chief Richard Tamburini approached him in 2014 about leading the accreditation unit, and he produced an accelerated timeline. Johnston is accredited by both RIPAC and the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, or CALEA.

Benson said that CALEA accreditation usually takes four years to come to fruition, but Johnston was able to sign the dotted line in just 18 months. Tamburini delivered the good news on Halloween night four years ago, and the department received a mock assessment in December. The official accreditation was presented a few months later.

“Since then there’s earning your accreditation, that’s important in and of itself, but maintaining it is the rigor and challenge to it,” Benson told the Sun Rise. “Achieving it, you’re setting yourself up, starting to be in the process of starting training … you have this landscape or chronology of several years where you have to be maintaining this on an annual basis and someone is reviewing that, it’s more of a challenge at that point.”

As Benson said in his interview with RIPAC, accreditation provides vast benefits to the department, both tangible and in reputation. He said RIPAC’s review invites “transparency, feedback and accountability” for the JPD, while aligning the agency with the nationally recognized best practices “affirms [its] structural integrity and efficacy.”

“I was told very early on the comparative is, would you, yourself or your loved one, would you want to go to a hospital that is not accredited?” Benson told the Sun Rise. “Would you send your child to a college that is not accredited? Some people look at it as a prestige thing. Some people look at it as an external review, an unabashed take on your procedures. [It’s] a matter of which lens you are looking at it.”

Benson said accreditation helps validate the everyday work of the Johnston Police and its staff.

“Before being accredited, you have the policies, you’re conducting yourself appropriately, but you don’t have the external review to say, ‘We recognize that,’” Benson said. “For me, that’s the most important thing is the external source is reviewing what we do and you're doing it the best way by nationally best standards.”

Chief Joseph Razza said he’s proud of the department’s dual accreditations, saying Johnston is one of several departments to receive the local and national seal of approval for using best practices.

Cumberland, Cranston, Warwick and Middletown are among the other departments across Rhode Island to receive RIPAC accreditation.

“Not all the cities and towns are accredited with RIPAC just yet,” Razza said. “Having these two levels of accreditation says that we’re doing everything by the book and as far as doing everything by the book, we have a level of transparency that we’re proud of.”

During his Q&A with RIPAC, Benson made sure to credit the department’s officers and Tamburini for continuing to foster a “functional and effective culture” for the past few decades.

“One thing that stood out when we embarked on this journey back in 2014 was that we were already operating in accordance with the majority of recognized best practices,” Benson said. “Of course, there were gaps that needed to be filled, and we continue to strive for heightened service delivery today and into the future, but during our self-assessment phase, we didn’t encounter anything that was believed to be insurmountable for the organization to come into compliance with.”

Benson told RIPAC that accreditation isn’t an easy feat to accomplish, but the benefits far outweigh the challenges. The department makes itself vulnerable during the review process, he said, but the results invoke “pride and establishes credibility in what they do.”

The community response has been strong as well.

“The outpouring of local support during these difficult times has been overwhelming and greatly appreciated. When you look at outcomes of assessment, sometimes community support is a difficult metric to quantify,” Benson told RIPAC. “In times like these, and even before the events of 2020, the expressions of appreciation and displays of public support have been nothing short of remarkable. We believe such respect and appreciation from our community is a derivative of the accreditation process and effective policing services.”

RIPAC also reached out to Mayor Joseph Polisena, a staunch supporter of the JPD. Polisena has repeatedly said he opposes any initiatives to defund the police, and he recently threatened to withhold mutual aid from neighboring communities should they decide to pursue that option.

“The town of Johnston and the Johnston Police Department have a long history of working well together, and personally I am proud of the JPD's work to achieve accreditation,” Polisena said in a statement to RIPAC. “In a time when many people across the country view law enforcement in a negative light, the Johnston community appreciates and supports its police and will continue to do so.”

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