Buckhannon city police chief Matt Gregory
Buckhannon city police chief Matt Gregory speaking to council at a meeting in January 2019. / File photo

Police chief says accreditation process packed with benefits

BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon Police Chief Matt Gregory on Thursday said he believes the city police department’s effort to attain full professional accreditation is preparing the agency well for reforms that may eventually materialize in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

The topic came up at Buckhannon City Council’s June 18 meeting following the chief’s report.

Councilman CJ Rylands asked Gregory how he thought the Buckhannon Police Department’s work to attain professional accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement, or CALEA, might benefit the agency in an era of pushback and protests against police brutality and use of force tactics.

Floyd died May 25 in Minneapolis while in police custody after officer Derek Chauvin reportedly knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. Some groups have called for police reforms that address systemic racism within law enforcement agencies, while others have asked that funding for police departments be redirected to social services, education and more.

“As we look at what’s happening in the U.S. with policing currently, do you think the process of accreditation positions us in a little more of a favorable way to profile ourselves (the city) in this situation?” Rylands asked.

The BPD is in the midst of working toward professional law enforcement accreditation through CALEA, which is three-year process that involves enrollment, self-assessment, assessment, a commission review and maintenance of credentials. According to its website and information provided by Gregory at council meetings over the past year-and-a-half, the law enforcement accreditation process involves a comprehensive review of the police department’s policies and procedures with an emphasis on professional excellence; community-oriented policing; and best practices related to life, health and safety. (You can read more here.)

Gregory said yes, noting the BPD is currently undergoing a mock assessment review that has been put together by a CALEA assessor/accreditation manager from Virginia Tech.

The police chief believes CALEA has been highly beneficial in regard to proposed police reforms, he said.

“I’ve had this conversation with a number of individuals over the last couple weeks,” he responded. “When you’re talking about the current events and the various reforms folks are calling for … if you look at the reforms that are being proposed, no matter what side of the aisle you’re talking about, that’s really the CALEA process.”

“A lot of the initiatives and reforms, just to break a couple of items down, are incorporated into CALEA,” Gregory added. “For instance, policies like usage of more body cameras, more comprehensive use of force reporting, more comprehensive use of force policy. I am proud to say that by virtue of CALEA, we do have all of those [initiatives] and are able to exhibit those through our assessment files.”

Gregory noted the BPD is one of only two agencies currently in the ‘self-assessment’ phase of CALEA in West Virginia; the Charles Town Police Department is the other. Right now, the City of Parkersburg Police Department is the only fully CALEA-credentialed law enforcement agency in the state.

He said collaborating with the Virginia Tech CALEA assessor has been fruitful as well.

“I’ve found, with the mock assessment, that it really helps to be part of a professional community where professional excellence is our key goal, and we really lean on each other,” Gregory told council. “Being part of the Virginia group now, I’m part of their chat network, so I see many emails each day talking about the various reforms and the various CALEA initiatives. It’s valuable to be able to lean on each other and to be able to make sure our department is geared professionally this way.”

Gregory said the department’s mock assessment will wrap up this week, and the actual assessment will likely take place in the summer of 2021.

Rylands said he hopes other police departments in W.Va. follow suit.

“Great,” he said. “We can only hope other communities in West Virginia begin working towards this, and you’ll be an example of the results. Good work.”

The CALEA website says the benefits of attaining and maintaining full professional accreditation include increased community advocacy, greater accountability within an agency, reduced liability exposure and increased use of best practices.

“The program provides the framework for addressing high risk issues within a contemporary environment, and ensures officers are prepared to meet basic community service expectations and prepared to manage critical events,” CALEA’s website explains.

The Buckhannon Fire Department is similarly working toward attaining agency accreditation through the Commission on Fire Accreditation International.

In other law enforcement-related news, Gregory noted the BPD has a vacancy with the resignation of former Patrolman Josh Wilson, and the Police Civil Service Commission will be accepting applications through July 10.

Gregory mentioned the arrest of a number of people who were allegedly conducting drug trafficking operations out of the residence at 12 Cooper Street. As of Monday, 11 people have been arrested in connected with the June 5 drug bust.

“Unfortunately, drug activity has not slowed down, even with COVID-19,” Gregory said.

The police chief also reported that Darin Hissam was promoted to sergeant after passing his exam June 10.

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