Retired Worcester Police Lt. Richard Bates, Eastham Deputy Chief Daniel Deschamps, and retired Arlington Capt. Paul Coughlin sift through documents in the Tisbury Police Station as part of the the TPD certification assessment.The Tisbury Police Department appears on the brink of achieving certification, a watershed achievement for a department dogged by problems for decades. Police certification verifies best practices and proper policies and procedures are in place. Several Vineyard police departments have achieved certification, or the next level of standards, accreditation.
There are 159 standards that must be met for certification, Tisbury Police Chief Mark Saloio told The Times. Saloio would know. He was an assessor and commissioner for the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission (MPAC), the agency that certifies and accredits police departments in the commonwealth.
In a nutshell, Chief Saloio said, certification will help ensure members of the department are “less likely to make a mistake.” However, he stressed that certification isn’t proof against mistakes.
“We’re still going to make mistakes,” he said. “Accreditation or certification is not a panacea.”
Sturbridge, Saloio said, his former department, was among a pioneering few departments to achieve accreditation status, but folks were still subject to disciplinary actions.
“So just because you’re accredited or certified does not mean you’re not going to make mistakes,” he said. “There’s not one accredited or certified agency out there that doesn’t have disciplinary incidents. It doesn’t eliminate things. Does it allow you to do a better job fixing things that come up? Yes, because you’re forced to consistently examine what your practices are, how you go about them, and how you can improve them.”
On May 24 and 25, three assessors from MPAC went to work in the Tisbury Police Station after the department spent months in preparation. Tisbury Police Officer Andrew Silvia was the department’s manager for the certification process and, according to Saloio, worked with a team composed of all three sergeants, Det. Bill Brigham, administrative assistant Meghan Montesian, and Chief Saloio. Eastham Deputy Chief Daniel Deschamps, retired Worcester Police Lt. Richard Bates, and retired Arlington Capt. Paul Coughlin were the assessors. Per MPAC policy, The Times was allowed to photograph the assessors, but could not pose questions to them.
Saloio said MPAC standards are based on Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) standards and best practices.
“Domestic violence, for example, is illegal anywhere in our country,” Saloio said. “But what it’s termed in Massachusetts — chapter, section, penalty — may be termed differently in one of the other states. While there are no set procedures or laws in effect nationally for police officers, there are standards that are nationally considered to be best practices. How you handle evidence, how you treat detainees, how you handle interview-interrogations, how you take care of your own interdepartmental business, those are all incorporated in the [certification] standards which are based on the national best practices standards under CALEA.”
One of Det. Brigham’s specific projects was modernizing and standardizing the department’s evidence room, doing a full inventory. Brigham put the inventory on a spreadsheet and installed a digital method to track pieces of evidence. “So we do have a barcode system now in place,” he said.
Many items in evidence don’t need to be there anymore, he said.
“A lot of stuff that’s in the evidence room is from cases that have been either disposed of, dismissed, et cetera. So now I need to go through the process, through the district attorney’s office, on disposing of stuff we don’t need anymore. And once that’s done, I think 75 percent of the stuff that I have in there will be gone, and the remainder is going to be entered into the computer. And that’s just for efficiency. There’s no sense in me putting it all into the computer now just to take it out when we get permission to dispose of things that we don’t need anymore.”
Det. Brigham said digitization wasn’t a certification requirement, but was necessary, in his opinion, to usher the “21st century” into the evidence room. However, security was a criterion.
“First and foremost, that the room is secure and there’s limited access to it,” he said. “That’s an important feature they look for.” Only Det. Brigham and Sgt. Christopher Habekost have access to the room, he said.
The way things are stored is also important, as is the ability to immediately identify evidence: “The ability to pull an item off of a shelf randomly and be able to go into the inventory log and find it and match it up,” he said.
Sgt. Max Sherman said the certification process, which he’s been involved in through training and training policy matters, is a boost to the department: “Everything we do in our careers is to show people and prove to people that we’re professionals individually, but also we’re working for a professional agency. And this is definitely a step in that direction … It has not always been like that.”
Sgt. Sherman said he couldn’t speak to whether certification will prevent the department from reliving past problems.
“I don’t do hypotheticals,” he said. “It’s not fair to say that. But it definitely — it helps us being proud of the patch that we wear.”
As part of the process, Chief Saloio said department policies have “substantially” increased.
“Many people look at policies as a negative thing,” Saloio said. “Policies are your guidebook. And I’ve said this since I’ve been a supervisor, long before I came to Tisbury, if you’re a brand-new police officer and you’re speaking to that police officer: Do you know when you have to use lethal force? Yes. OK, do you know when you have to go hands-on with somebody because there’s a physical assault taking place and you have to stop it? Yes. OK, absent those two things, 99 percent of the things we deal with, you can take a step back and you can think about it, and look at your options. That’s why it’s very important to have thorough policies. They’re like a guidebook. And the officers, with the technology now, they can access the policies from the [laptops] in their cruiser, even on their smartphones.”
Chief Saloio said he was told the assessors would be recommending the department for certification. The decision then rests with the commission and its executive director, he said.
“As a fellow Island police chief, I commend Chief Saloio and his officers on their receiving state certification, as this achievement takes a commitment of the whole department and a heck of a lot of work to attain,” Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee emailed. “They should also be proud to join those other forward-thinking agencies who have taken on the challenge of formally adopting the best practices of our profession. Interestingly, Chief Saloio has served on the state’s certification/accreditation board, and really is a subject matter expert on this accomplishment. He has also been of terrific assistance to the other island PDs as they also take on this same challenge.”