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Oxford Police Department earns national accreditation

Following an extensive review process and a formal hearing last week, the Oxford Police Department earned national accreditation status by the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA).

Considered the gold standard in public safety, OPD joins eight other Mississippi law enforcement agencies who have received the accreditation honor. Lafayette County sheriff-elect Joey East said he had envisioned the OPD earning accreditation on the state and national level a few years ago, during his tenure as police chief.

“It is formulating the best practices, and that was really the goal,” interim OPD chief Jeff McCutchen said of getting national accreditation. “To find the best way to do evidence. The best way to do paperwork and process and promotion and recruiting. So, you have these agencies that are doing this on a national level that have perfected some of these things, and we were like, ‘Hey, if we really want to be the best then we’ve got to look at who’s doing the best and get in line.”

The CALEA accreditation is a voluntary process that requires agencies to submit annual reports showing compliance with the program’s standards. Agencies must also complete a thorough, on-site assessment. An assessment team from CALEA spent several days in Oxford to evaluate OPD and its practices.

Having the idea of doing this in place years prior to the assessment, McCutchen and the rest of OPD were ready to have CALEA’s team inspect them first hand.

“We had worked on it so hard, we were anxious for them to come on,” McCutchen said. “Three or four years we’ve been working this trying to get the paperwork in line and change policies and changing procedures. It’s one thing to put it on paper that you’ve changed it, but it’s another to make sure the staff’s actually doing it. That’s the hard part.”

During the assessment team’s visit to Oxford, they also spoke with elected officials, city executives, department staff and community members along with reviewing all of OPD’s paperwork and examining policies. Part of the assessment included riding along with officers on patrol to examine policies and practices in the field.

Earning the national accreditation allows the possibility of national funding being made available to OPD, but in McCutchen’s eyes the biggest thing it does is give positive reinforcement to Oxford residents that their police station is falling in line with the national standards of a police department.

“It should give the community a sense of security that we are doing it right, we are being transparent,” McCutchen said. “We are asking an outside entity to come in and we give them the keys to the department. They can come in and look at anything. They come in and say, ‘Hey, I want seven proofs on this policy that you say you actually do what you say you do.’ We have to produce them those documents. … It’s not a ‘good ole boy’ where you come in and kind of dust it under the rug. If you’re wrong, they call you on it and you have to fix it and you have to move forward.”

The accreditation is good for four years, at which point OPD will have to re-apply. During that period, CALEA will send a team to do yearly inspections and if they find OPD is no longer complying with their standards, the accreditation can be pulled at any time.