By Natalie Johnson / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office is taking a close look at itself, down to the smallest policy or procedure, in preparation for an in-depth state review and a week-long audit later this year required to regain its status as a state-accredited police agency.
“Overall, we do things very well,” Sheriff Rob Snaza said. “We were accredited, it just lapsed.”
The Sheriff’s Office’s accreditation lapsed in 2015, but the agency plans to apply this year to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to reclaim its accreditation, and to achieve the milestone for the first time for the Lewis County Jail.
WASPC has maintained an accreditation program for law-enforcement agencies since 1976, according to the agency. It only recently began offering accreditation for jails, Undersheriff Wes Rethwill said.
According to WASPC, the benefits of accreditation include increased credibility and public confidence in the police agency, decreased susceptibility of the agency to litigation and reduction in liability insurance, improved agency morale, and provision of a self-assessment tool, among other benefits.
The program also gives the Sheriff’s Office a set of standards to follow to keep it on pace with other agencies.
Once accredited, agencies must apply for reaccreditation every four years using documentation from that time period to prove it met all of the criteria required by WASPC.
Snaza said he and his command staff learned after he took over as sheriff from former Sheriff Steve Mansfield in 2015 that staff did not have the required records to apply for reaccreditation that year.
Snaza said he didn’t know why the Sheriff’s Office wasn’t ready for reaccreditation that year.
The Sheriff’s Office also plans to apply for accreditation for the Lewis County Jail through WASPC this year.
Because the Sheriff’s Office missed out on reaccreditation, it has to start from scratch this year.
In order to qualify, the office will have to do an in-depth audit of virtually every facet of the agency, including its goals and objectives, use of force, records management, fiscal management, training, code of conduct, internal affairs and many other categories.
“The accreditation is a long process,” Snaza said
WASPC has assigned the Sheriff’s Office a mentor to help conduct a mock audit and walk through.
The Sheriff’s Office will submit the accreditation applications at the fall WASPC conference, after which it will be reviewed by a board.
WASPC inspectors will then do a week-long onsite inspection of the Sheriff’s Office and jail.
Snaza said the Sheriff’s Office’s already operates within “90 percent” of the requirements of the WASPC accreditation.
“It’s just fine-tuning,” he said.
While an arduous process, Snaza said, applying for accreditation has given the Sheriff’s Office a good opportunity to reexamine its policies and procedures.
It also presented a chance to subscribe to Lexipol, a company that manages policy manuals for public safety, fire and jails.
The service constantly updates policies based on changes to state and national law and best practices. The Sheriff’s Office can also make additions to the standard policies provided by Lexipol based on the agency’s needs.
Currently, Sheriff’s Office staff are working to review the policies before switching over.
“In the long run it will hopefully help us to make sure we stay current,” Rethwill said.
The Washington State Risk Management Pool is covering a majority of the about $7,000 cost to implement Lexipol, Snaza said.