Committed to better policing - how law enforcement in the Triangle is making a change

In the midst of current events, two police departments in the Triangle are pushing for major changes and hope to see a ripple effect across the state.

Posted Updated
Abbey Slattery
, WRAL Digital Solutions
This article was written for our sponsor, the Triangle Regional Recruitment Partnership.

In the past few months, policing has seen major changes across the country. But for some officers and departments in the Triangle, change has been on the horizon for a while.

From Morrisville to Knightdale, various pockets across the state have already been pushing for the overall goal of changing the way policing happens through interdepartmental policies and new initiatives.

With people more interested and open to change, the past few months have been ripe with opportunities to introduce these new ideas.

"Obviously there have been a lot of conversations about policing lately. Being proactive in Morrisville, we started to look and say, 'OK, how might this change our organization in how we service our community?' And so I started really thinking about police professional responsibility, not just in words, but in action, and that's where this initiative came from," said Captain Eric Preddy of the Morrisville Police Department. "I presented my thoughts to Chief Andrews, who is the chief of police here in Morrisville, and she was 100 percent behind my thought process on how we can move our department in a better direction."

Spearheaded by Preddy, the Morrisville Police Department has started a Police Professional Responsibility Initiative, aimed at examining police reform in terms of professional responsibility as an organizational practice.

The initiative is focused on implementing professional responsibility in every aspect of work the department does, from recruitment and hiring to training and service delivery.

Preddy hopes the initiative will speak to and increase the accountability, transparency, engagement and agility of the MPD through every facet of their work.

"Our community rightly demands that we're transparent about how and why we enforce the law, and our community also seeks engagement opportunities to discuss and be a part of law enforcement conversation. We have to be very agile to meet the demands and challenges of policing in the 21st century," said Preddy. "We've been reforming for decades, and I don't think we can ever stop reforming. We always have to look at ... our best practices. We have to look at the changing environments and changing landscapes across the country, which also means that there's more training that has to go into that. So our policies and our procedures are in constant state of reform because policing inherently is those changes."

So far, the department has issued body cameras for all officers and provided educational pieces within the community regarding the body camera program. Additionally, Preddy emphasized the department's willingness to provide more town halls to answer questions and address changes.

In challenging the norms of policing through the new initiative, Preddy references a particularly poignant concept that he came across in 2015 — the warrior-versus-guardian motivation.

"There's organizations in policing that embrace a warrior concept, and what that's about is officer survival. That's vastly different from the guardian philosophy, which highlights a service-first commitment to policing and emphasizes the importance of building relationships through effective soft skills and advocates for sharing of information in the practice of procedural justice," said Preddy. "We really want to examine our culture within our organization to see if we are practicing the philosophy that we embrace, which is the guardian philosophy."

While Preddy hopes to see the MPD lead the way in changing policing, other departments are tapping into established processes in order to hold themselves to higher standards.

Chief Lawrence Capps of the Knightdale Police Department has been using the accreditation process to push for change within his own department. As Knightdale turns into a larger community year-by-year, Capps — a 21-year veteran of correction and law enforcement — saw it necessary to hold his department accountable to adhering to the latest best practices.

"The biggest reason to pursue accreditation, especially in smaller organizations that are in these areas of rapid growth, is that it helps them keep pace with that rapid change. It helps them adapt to the change that is happening around them, and these standards build trust in professional law enforcement practices," said Capps. "Another thing accreditation does is it calls together all of these professional standards into one place. It's giving you that guidance that says exactly what to do in each situation."

The accreditation process is far from simple, which might be why only around five percent of police departments in the United States are accredited, according to Capps. There are roughly 500 professional standards or best practices that are divided across dozens of chapters. Departments are required to assess themselves against these written directives, seeing how their current policy stands up against the official best practices, from processing arrestees to dealing with a mental health crisis and everything in between.

Once self-assessment is over, departments must correct any areas of dissonance. From there, they move into the assessment phase, where an official auditor visits their department for multiple days, interviewing department members and the community, digging through everything with a fine tooth comb, verifying and proving compliance.

"Every year, on an annual basis, the commission is going to select a percentage of those 500 standards randomly for review, and you have to submit your files and yourself for an audit and an inspection. Then every four years, the assessors are going to come back to your organization and conduct an in-depth auditing process. It's a very cyclical process, because the process of accreditation is ever-evolving and in a constant state of review and refinement and practice," said Capps. "You have to focus on it constantly, because the professional best practices that were in place five years ago aren't the professional best practices today. The agencies that recognize that, they're the ones that are staying on top of it, and they recognize that maintaining compliance and getting reaccredited takes a lot of work."

While many police departments around the country are focused on making changes, Capps emphasized that for departments who are accredited, many of those changes have already been put into place. This preparedness gives them space to focus on newer innovations.

"Maybe you've heard a lot lately about the Eight Can't Wait initiative. The great thing about that is organizations that have been accredited have been doing those things for a number of years,because they have been recognized for a long time as professional best practices," said Capps. "The commission on accreditation for law enforcement agencies, which is made up of several different professional entities, are collectively looking at these issues and actively making decisions about best practices. Everything that happened over the last few months created an opportunity for us to help educate people on things that they just didn't know about, but had always been there for us."

Both Preddy and Capps hope to see more police departments in the area adopt some of these changes.

For both officers, at the end of the day, policing is about better serving and protecting the community. Through Preddy's initiative and Capps' accreditation process, they hope to set an example on how to listen to those they serve and hold their own departments to the highest standards.

"The police are the public and the public are the police, and when we start to separate ourselves from our community, we become at a great disadvantage, and there may be some of that that is infiltrating what you see today," said Preddy. "It's important that we look at professional responsibility in terms of how we're recruiting our officers, and if the qualities and attributes that define our next generation of officers will elevate this profession, not only for 21st century policing, but beyond that."

Added Capps, "This has created an opportunity to make sure we are adhering to what we have always required — from a philosophical standpoint, from an overarching policy statement standpoint — and do a better job of clarifying our expectations. As we continue to focus more and more on the ever-changing community dynamic, we're going to find more opportunities for us to adjust our approach to service delivery in a way that makes sense for the people that we took an oath to serve and protect."

This article was written for our sponsor, the Triangle Regional Recruitment Partnership.


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