It means "that the agency has subjected itself to a set of professional standards and been judged," Cummings says essentially, that its reputation has been polished.
More practically, it allows the department to receive grants for which it couldn't otherwise qualify. Its status will decrease the department's liability in any lawsuits against it.
Many of the departments in surrounding localities are already accredited the sheriff's offices in Hanover and Goochland counties, and the police departments in Henrico and Chesterfield counties received theirs at least three years ago.
Why did Richmond wait so long? They didn't, actually, Cummings explains. It takes years for a department the size of Richmond's, which employs 846, to prepare for the examination. The state accreditation program was established in 1996, and in 1999 "we got real serious about it," he says.
So in April 2000 Cummings was promoted to program manager. He began overseeing the review of all police procedures. There are 214 standards required for the assessment, he explains covering everything from lights and sirens on patrol cars to written plans of action for mass riots.
One tough area to bring up to code was communications, Cummings says. The property and evidence procedures also presented challenges, he says. The Richmond Police keep hundreds of thousands of pieces of evidence in storage, yet the assessors demanded that any particular one be easily located.
When assessors came in early December, the entire department was on its toes, Cummings recalls. They trotted out cars, motorcycles, dogs and horses for inspection and opened up the file cabinets. Officers called Cummings while the assessment was going on to ask, "What did they think of my unit?"
When the certificate comes up for renewal in four years, it should be a simpler process. "With what we went through for initial accreditation," Cummings says, "it can't be more difficult."
-----MELISSA SCOTT SINCLAIR