By Daniel Silliman
Roy Hanson remembers being a rookie at the Atlanta Police Department years ago, and he remembers he wasn't really confident he knew what he was supposed to do, in any given situation.
"It was confusing," Hanson said. "In the academy, they'd tell you one thing, and you'd get out on the street and it'd be totally different. The rule book was a little-bitty thing you could stick in your pocket, but it didn't really cover very much."
In recent years, area police departments have been moving away from that older style of law enforcement, and pursuing more standardized methods of operation. A recognized mark of professionalism is accreditation, and Hanson has made that his specialty at the end of his career in law enforcement.
He worked to get the Forest Park Police Department nationally accredited with the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), under the leadership of Chief Dwanye Hobbs. The department earned it's national accreditation, becoming the only accredited department in the county, and one of only 36 in the state.
"It's a pretty elite group to be in," Hanson said. "It makes you a more professional organization."
Hanson is now working with the Riverdale Police Department, coming out of retirement to help the department achieve accreditation, under the leadership of Chief Samuel F. Patterson.
Hanson, the Riverdale Police Department's accreditation manager, is currently rushing to be ready for a test review of the department's qualifications on Dec. 1, with the official review set for late April, and the possible accreditation slated for August 2009.
He is working out of a back office at the police station, in a room with massive filing cabinets, as he revises the department policies and documents the practice of standard operating procedures.
There are 460 standards for national accreditation -- covering everything from the rules for recruiting to the rules for police chases, from training to standards of handcuffing -- and Hanson has to make sure the department meets all of them.
The hardest part can often be just finding the appropriate documentation of officers following proper procedure. Hanson recently got a police report in which the officer outlines how he handcuffed a suspect, and it's a real coup for accreditation, because the document is unusual even though the action is routine.
"Officers don't typically write that in their report," Hanson said. "A lot of this is just getting people to document what they do, and that's one of the things about accreditation, you are documenting everything ... It makes you keep up with things like reports and reviews."
There might have been some resistance to accreditation, among certain generations of officers who associate rules with getting in trouble, Hanson said. But, by the late 1990s, when he started working to get Forest Park accredited, the officers saw it as a mark of achievement and excellence.
"The officers were just extremely proud. ... And I tell them, you know, the rules are for your protection. ... As long as you follow the rules, you won't get in trouble and that protects you.
"Years ago, no matter what you did, they could find something to get you in trouble, like say, you fired a warning shot and someone got hit by the ricochet, or say, you didn't fire a warning shot, and someone got away. But with the rules, you know what you're supposed to do, and as long as you follow those rules, you're fine, and it doesn't matter what anyone says," Hanson said.
When the Forest Park Police Department first got its accreditation, officials redesigned the officers' badges to show that the department had CALEA accreditation. Hanson said he expects to see that same excitement as Riverdale nears the end of the process.
"If I stop and think about it," he said, "in my 30 years in law enforcement, which are the better police departments I've seen? They were all accredited. I'm sold on it. I think it makes you a better, more professional organization."