Suwanee police aim for rare accreditation
Department works for national certification

SUWANEE - If things go as planned, Suwanee police will make life a whole lot harder for themselves in coming years.

Leaders with the Suwanee Police Department recently announced plans to launch a years-long process to gain national accreditation. If successful, the department would join only 5 percent of law enforcement agencies in the nation to be so recognized.

Only two departments in Gwinnett - Norcross police and the county's police force - are nationally accredited.

"We're definitely going from minor to the major leagues," said Sgt. Chris Robinson, Suwanee's accreditation manager. "This will assure our residents that their police department is one of the most professionally operated in the country."

But first things first.

Before Suwanee police get stamped by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, the department is required to draft a seriously comprehensive plan.

Right now, Suwanee is a state-certified agency. That means the department has demonstrated it meets 118 standards outlined by the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police.

On a national level, those standards are quadrupled to more than 450. They cover every area of law enforcement - from hiring policies to when officers should and should not discharge weapons.

And time is of the essence. The department has up to three years to ready itself with appropriate policies before outside assessors descend on Suwanee from all over the country. Preparations should cost between $10,000 and $15,000, officials estimate.

So what do the extra hoops mean to Suwanee's roughly 14,000 residents - a population that's ballooned from 2,000 in 1990?

"The standards help the agency to be more community involved," said Suwanee police Chief Mike Jones. "It requires us to make sure that citizens have a formal way to file complaints or concerns."

Robinson said the department is currently digging into manuals and building files that should satisfy CALEA's standards. It's a tedious, often grueling process of self-assessing, but it's par for the course, he said.

The final step will open up the department to input from Suwanee residents and even representatives of local media.

"I would classify the accreditation process exactly the same way that colleges have to," said Robinson. "You're subject to a review every three years. It's a continual self-assessment.

"We're going to hopefully to do it much sooner than (in three years). It's a monumental task, but I think we've got a pretty good foundation."

Jones, the chief, is no stranger to a nationally accredited force.

Nine years ago, he uprooted from the Rome Police Department, where he noted a correlation between the national standards and police efficiency.

A top-notch police force would help to solidify Suwanee among America's most desirable communities, as Money Magazine professed earlier this year, Jones said.

"I think the demands of our citizens will be higher (in coming years)," said Jones. "Our goal is to be professional, ethical and knowledgeable.

"I think CALEA brings a lot of that together."