March 26, 2014

Police Department Accredited by State After Lengthy Process

As expected, the Princeton Police Department (PPD) received accreditation from the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police (NJSACOP) Thursday, March 20.

The Princeton Police Department was visited by a team of NJSACOP assessors over two days, Sunday and Monday, January 26 and 27, as the final step toward the first accreditation for the new department following the January 2013 consolidation of the police departments of Princeton Township and Princeton Borough.

All aspects of the new police force were examined by the NJSACOP team: policies and procedures, management, operations, and support services. Members of the public were invited to comment to members of the assessment team on the Princeton Police Department’s ability to comply with the NJSACOP standards, which could be viewed a the Department headquarters, 1 Valley Road.

Captain Nick Sutter, acting chief of police, has described accreditation as “a highly prized recognition of law enforcement professional excellence.” The accreditation is valid for a three-year period during which time the department must submit annual documentary proof of continued compliance with 100 standards as required by the Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission.

The stamp of approval shows that the PPD is in compliance with those standards and is the culmination of a lengthy process that included much discussion by members of Princeton Council and Mayor Lempert on police matters during last year and continuing even now.

In 2013, the municipality grappled with issues such as the form of civilian oversight of the police, the seat of “appropriate authority,” and the need for post-consolidation stability after a history that more than one council member described as “dysfunctional,” in reference to the departure of several police chiefs in less than ideal circumstances.

The consolidated department’s first Police Chief David Dudeck, who was appointed to lead the new department in January 2013, went on leave of absence and subsequently retired amid allegations of misconduct and a civil lawsuit brought by seven police officers.

Last summer, the municipality hired a public safety consulting firm, expert in law enforcement accreditation and operations, to report on the health and culture of Princeton’s police.

Their 83-page report, which was presented in November, included perceptions of the police as reported by 11 focus groups made up of police officers, police captains and lieutenants, sergeants, civilian employees, administrators, local merchants, education officials, elected officials, and others. Focus groups commented on quicker response times to calls and greater information sharing in the combined department.

Led by Frank Rodgers, former Deputy Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, who retired in 2007 at the rank of Lt. Colonel after 25 years of service, the consultants of the Rodgers Group, commended the level of transparency of both Council and PPD. Mr. Rodgers described the process of self-examination that the municipality had engaged in as “a model for other communities anticipating consolidation.”

The Rogers Report observed that under the leadership of Captain Nick Sutter, who became acting chief during the absence and subsequent departure of Mr. Dudeck, there had been “great strides” in bringing the two former departments together.

Other observations and recommendations called for the department to: develop a long-term strategic plan; establish initiatives in support of services wanted by the community; establish a leadership and mentoring program; and develop internal systems that reward officer performance.

Being accredited by the State is a benchmark of the “great strides” made so far. “Accreditation results in greater accountability within the agency, reduced risk and liability exposure, stronger defense against civil lawsuits, increased community advocacy, and more confidence in the agency’s ability to operate efficiently and respond to community needs,” said Mr. Sutter.

Mayor Lempert has described the Princeton Police Department as “one of the greatest successes of consolidation; doing more and spending less. We’re proud of the work they are doing.”

The next step is the appointment of a new chief of police to lead the department.