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COUNCIL HEARS ABOUT BENEFITS OF POLICE ACCREDITATION

Buffalo's Police Department could join the ranks of elite crime-fighting agencies if officials succeed is gaining national accreditation for the 1,200-member force, Common Council members were told Tuesday.

Police officials revealed to Council members that they are planning to make a bid for accreditation, a two-year process that could cost $100,000 and will involve a top-to-bottom review of operations.

To be accepted by a national accrediting agency in Virginia, the department must update its practices to meet 436 professional standards, ranging from when officers may use deadly force to how traffic rules are enforced, Council members were told during a caucus meeting.

"Accreditation is a pretty major process. Every department that's gone through it has made big changes," Police Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske said after the meeting.

The department is more than halfway toward gaining the recognition, but being accepted by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies in Fairfax, Va., will require basic changes in police training and operations, among other steps, Kerlikowske said.

"The most important thing is gaining support from everybody involved. You'd have to have the support of the union . . . city officials and the citizens," Kerlikowske said.

What's in it for Buffalo?

A better police force and possibly some financial help from outside funding sources, according to Council members, who heard a briefing on accreditation by Rochester Police Officer Mark Beadrault.

"When you apply for funding, you are looked on very favorably if you've been accredited," Council Majority Leader Rosemarie LoTempio explained. "We should move towards implementing it. The Council will look favorably on this when it comes to us."

Others who expressed enthusiasm included Niagara Council Member Robert Quintana, a Buffalo police officer on leave. Quintana said he favors accreditation because it would mean police would be held to a higher standard.

"I think there's a 75 percent possibility to get accreditation now, but that 25 percent will take a lot of effort," Quintana said.

While the accreditation process usually takes two years, some departments have taken up to five years to meet national standards, Kerlikowske said. He said Buffalo already has been moving toward the national benchmarks since he took office about three years ago.

"Everything we've done has been to try to meet the national standards," he said. "We will continue to try and do that."

Kerlikowske started the push about two years ago when he asked the newly formed 40-member Police Commissioner Citizen Advisory Group to explore whether accreditation would be in the city's interest.

The group recently visited Rochester to study its successful bid for accreditation and came away convinced the effort would benefit Buffalo, according to a police spokesman.

As an added incentive for making the effort, accreditation will ensure that Buffalo taxpayers are getting the best for their money, the police commissioner said.

"Our officers are being paid a good salary and benefits. This will demonstrate to city residents that the salaries and benefits are justified," Kerlikowske said.

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