Seven local residents provided their own personal assessments and anecdotes about the performance of the Mahwah Police Department to CALEA representatives Monday night. The public hearing was part of the PD's .
Developed in 1984, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, or CALEA, outlines international standards for law enforcement agencies of different types and sizes. If an agency can prove during a review process that it is in compliance with all of the standards, it becomes an “accredited” agency. The Mahwah PD was first accredited in 2003, then again in 2006 and 2009. If approved this year, the accreditation renewal will last another three years.
An assessment team working on behalf of the commission arrived in Mahwah Sunday to begin reviewing the PD’s procedures and operations. According to Chief James Batelli, the examination is extremely thorough. “They come in to make sure that we are in compliance with over 460 standards, which is difficult to do,” he said. “They examine what goes on in headquarters, ride with officers and interview citizens. The other night, they actually went out to dinner in town and started interviewing other diners about their feelings on the police department.”
According to Warren Wyatt, a retired police chief from Margate, Florida who is conducting the review on behalf of the commission, the process is necessary in order to determine if the PD is meeting the accreditation standards. “It is a difficult process. The departments need to be willing to commit to it, and change as needed.”
Public input, Wyatt said, is an “important part” of the process, because CALEA describes accreditation as a means for agencies to build on their relationships with the communities they serve.
According to all of the residents who spoke on the PD’s behalf Monday, the relationship is already solid. “I am very proud to have this department looking over us,” Carol Knighting, a 23-year resident, said. “Both of my teenage daughters went through the department’s junior police and youth leadership academies. When my daughter was 14, she was at a party, and called me about 10 minutes after she got there to pick her up,” Knighting explained. “When I asked her what happened, she said there was drinking at the party, and she didn’t want to let the police officers down, she wanted to return to the academy. For a 14-year-old to be able to articulate that type of relationship says it all, I think.”
Harry Anceniun, a lifelong resident, also spoke about the PD’s “positive” interactions with the community. “In all of my dealings with the department, I have found that the officers are very human, and have a lot of heart, but also the intelligence of a well-trained police department.”
Current councilman and past Mahwah Police Chief Sam Alderisio said that although he, “may be a little biased, he feels comfortable saying that we have the best police force in Bergen County, and one of the 10 best in the state.”
None of the residents in attendance gave the PD a negative review. However, the commission also conducted phone interviews and is collecting written statements from residents that will be considered in the final review process.
Wyatt, who has been a CALEA assessor since 1994, said getting exclusively positive feedback from residents is uncommon. “It is rare to have this type of community support expressed at a public hearing, especially from all different factions of the community.”
The cost to the township for becoming accredited is just over $10,000. According to Batelli, “the end result is a better police force. Every time we’ve gone through this process, we have improved how the agency operates,” he said. “You can’t run the agency with blinders on, thinking that we are doing things the right way because that’s how we’ve always done them. This is a good way to make sure we are updating our procedures and to address any issues that may come up.”
The assessment team is set to wrap up its work in Mahwah Wednesday. From there, it will create a report addressing how the township’s police department fared. The report will be considered at a four-day long conference in Jacksonville, Florida this December, when Batelli will answer questions about the department that come up as a result of the report. At the conclusion of the four days, the CALEA committee will vote on whether or not the PD can be reaccredited.
According to CALEA's website, there are only 9 municipal PD's in the state that are currently accredited, and three, including Mahwah, that are under review. Nearby accredited agencies include the Ridgewood and West Orange departments.
Residents who want to submit written comments about the Mahwah Police department’s ability to comply with the standards for accreditation may send them to the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies at 13575 Heathcote Boulevard, Suite 320, Gainesville, Virginia, 20155. Residents can also call 201-831-2050 through 6 p.m. Wednesday to make comments.