Public shows support for UTPD reaccreditation

Alberto Long

At a public forum Monday afternoon, UTPD employees and the campus community offered comments regarding UTPD’s candidacy for three more years of accreditation — a prestigious recognition of professional excellence by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

Less than 10 percent of the nation’s 10,000 police departments are accredited by CALEA, a national credentialing authority created by law enforcement’s executive associations including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, National Sheriffs’ Association and the Police Executive Research Forum. Accreditation is sought on a volunteer basis. 

“We put in so much work and so much effort, to be reaccredited will validate our work,” Lt. Julie Gillespie said. “It’s a feather in our cap as a department, it shows the professionalism we’ve achieved and it’s very important. You wouldn’t go to a college that wasn’t accredited — we look at it the same way.”

The forum was held as part of an on-site assessment performed by a team from CALEA. It included a retired chief of police and an administrative coordinator with the Virginia Tech police department. The team will develop a report documenting whether or not UTPD has maintained its standards since 2010, when the department was last accredited. Accreditation must be renewed every three years.

At the forum, representatives from the Office of the Dean of Students expressed their support of UTPD’s reaccreditation.

Christa Lopez, associate director for student emergency services, said her office has an “immense and fabulous” working relationship with UTPD.

“Our office pairs with UTPD quite frequently,” Lopez said. “We feel like they’re supportive of … the educational process. They’ve always been very agreeable and easy to access 24/7.”

Mary Beth Mercatoris, assistant dean of students for student activities, said UTPD has been invaluable in helping her office oversee more than 1,000 student organizations with “varied opinions and energies.”

“We have a wonderful working relationship with the UT police department,” Mercatoris said. “We strategize with UTPD to champion student rights to freedom of expression, while maintaining the integrity of the University – and more times than not everything works out really well. It’s a testament to this wonderful partnership.”

Mercatoris said UTPD is an essential facet of her office’s two-tier strategy when dealing with unfavorable situations or confrontations between student organizations.

“A lot of things don’t erupt into negative energy because we spend so much time front-loading this relationship [with UTPD],” Mercatoris said in regard to the diverging and often contentious opinions and worldviews between student groups. “I think it would speak very highly of CALEA to have UTPD accredited, because they’re doing things right here.”

The report will be submitted to a 21-person commission in July that will decide whether to grant accreditation. The commission members were appointed by the founding organizations and are made up of law enforcement executives and members of the public sector.