Huntsville Police Department maintains major accreditation, trains officers for difficult encounters

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The Huntsville Police Department has achieved a 21-year run as a CALEA-accredited law enforcement agency.

In an era when law enforcement agencies are under greater scrutiny, the department says the distinction should help give the public confidence HPD is meeting the highest standards.

Huntsville is only one of seven police departments in Alabama that are CALEA-certified, according to CALEA. The City of Madison Police Department is currently in the midst of pursuing CALEA-certification.

Officer Tommy Yohe, a 28-year police department veteran, serves as the accreditation manager for the department, a role he’s held since 2012.

Our standards are established by an organization called CALEA, Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies,” he said, of the international organization. “The department has been accredited now for 21 years and we have maintained the accreditation the entire time.”

CALEA’s review has been for three-year periods, but that was recently changed to four years, Yohe said. There are some 300 standards the department has to measure up to and document, from annual shooting accuracy qualification for every officer to management communication systems.

“In a three-year period, documentation that I have to accumulate, there’s several thousand documents have to be obtained and filed and just secured, for inspection,” Yohe said.

He says the hard work is worth it for the department, and for the public.

“Great benefit,’” he said. “What it does is it holds everybody accountable to the same sets of rules -- when they’re addressing the public, when they’re interacting, when they’re taking reports, or when they’re driving, or anything.”

Yohe said CALEA is an independent board, that maintains universal standards.

CALEA says its accreditation can “strengthen crime prevention and control capabilities”; formalize management procedures, establish fair, nondiscriminatory personnel practices, “improve service delivery,” improve interagency cooperation and coordination and boost citizen and staff confidence in the agency.

“We’re not operating at whatever standards we think or just happen to come up with off the top of our head,” Yohe said. “We’re operating at standards that are given to us, but they’re the same standards given to every agency that’s trying to be accredited.

“We’re not making it up as we go. And we are maintaining that.”

Yohe said the department trains its cadets and maintains training for officers to prepare them to make the right decisions in potentially deadly encounters.

we try to train people that if you believe that a person’s life is in serious physical danger, or your own, you are to use the force that you need to use, in order to stop that threat.

The training includes a simulator that takes offices through shoot-don’t shoot scenarios.

“It’s not so much designed to, ‘I’m going to go in there and play this like a game and try to shoot all the bad guys,’ that sort of thing,” Yohe said. “What it’s designed to do, is to teach the ability to think, quickly. And to assess quickly, and to make a decision quickly.

Yohe knows the trainers and the officers cannot simulate every potentially deadly scenario.

“Sometimes an officer has barely a fraction of a second to decide what to do,” he said.  “What we try to train them to do is simply to treat people -- accordingly. That’s the most simplified way I can explain that,” he said.

The HPD’s training will occasionally be updated include encounters dealt with by other law enforcement agencies. Yohe cited the “terrible” 2014 shooting of a motorist reaching for his wallet by a South Carolina state trooper.

“We use that as an example to explain to the officers, or the cadets, ‘somebody’s trying to give you their license, well let ‘em give you their license,’” he said.