Apr 11, 2019
Texas Woman's University (historically the College of Industrial Arts and Texas State College for Women, commonly known as TWU) is a co-educational university in Denton, Texas, with two health science center branches in Dallas and Houston. While TWU has been fully co-educational since 1994, it is the largest state-supported university primarily for women in the United States.
The Department of Public Safety has 20 sworn positions, 11 non-sworn security officer positions, and 12 support staff positions.
In an interview, Executive Director/Chief of Police Sam Garrison and Accreditation Manager Autumn Stinchcomb reflected on their experiences with the accreditation process and the value it has conveyed about their department.
Could you explain your decision to seek accreditation?
Chief Garrison: Early on, I had a very limited role in the accreditation program because I was a night-shift patrol sergeant. The decision to pursue IACLEA Accreditation was made by then-Chief Elizabeth Pauley.
As a sergeant, I would see that new policies were being issued, but I didn’t understand the entire accreditation program and process.
When I became chief, I had to rely on Autumn who had been much more involved than I had been. The more I learned about the accreditation program, the more I saw its value.
Was there any point at which you considered not continuing to pursue accreditation?
Chief Garrison: No, I never thought that we should stop our involvement. As an agency, we were committed to becoming accredited. It took some time and involvement with the process before I fully appreciated how it could help our agency.
Autumn Stinchcomb: The administration signed the contract before I was hired for the role. It was about six months into the process before I became involved. I was working in telecommunications as a dispatcher and didn’t really know anything about accreditation. As I learned about it, I realized how important accreditation would be to the department. I knew it would be challenging, yet worthwhile. Creating department policies and procedures that incorporated all required standards was the most time-consuming aspect of accreditation—we ended up completely overhauling our entire policies and procedures manual.
I learned by going to the IACLEA Annual Conference and poring over the accreditation manual. I created an “Introduction to Accreditation” training for officers and dispatchers so they could understand it.
We created a committee that helped me with the policies. Once I drafted new policies, I sent them to the sergeants for review and edits. We would sometimes meet in person to review the policies.
Chief Garrison: The process of reviewing policies forced us to ask “why does IACLEA want us to do this?” and “why do we do it this way?” But, at the same time, being completely committed to the process of self-assessment helped us answer those questions.
What were the biggest challenges in seeking IACLEA Accreditation?
Autumn Stinchcomb: Writing new policies and procedures to make sure they addressed all the standards. We had to increase training…create forms that never existed…and document what we were doing. I realized that we were doing many of the things the standards called for, but we had never documented it.
Chief Garrison: I realized during the process that we had to have the commitment of the whole agency. We had to ask “are we fully committed or are we just trying to get by?” To successfully achieve accreditation, we knew we had to be fully committed.
For me, the biggest challenge was instilling a culture of continuous improvement, which included developing policies and changing procedures. Once we had the policy and changed the procedure, we had to prove we actually do it. Autumn really held us accountable—if we didn’t have proofs, then in her mind, we weren’t complying with the standard.
The process of comparing our policies to the IACLEA standards led to a situation where patrol staff—including me—had to change the way we looked at the operation. We had to think critically about the procedures we had been doing for years.
To become accredited, the agency has to have buy-in from the officers and especially the supervisors, since they are responsible for ensuring compliance with policies. We were trying to change the organizational culture so that we performed at the highest possible level. Looking through a patrol officer lens compared to the administration lens was quite different. I realized that we could improve on the way we operated.
Was the process more difficult than you expected it to be?
Chief Garrison: It would have been if we didn’t have Autumn. The department decided to make a full-time position that functioned as the accreditation manager and Clery compliance officer. If we had left the role of accreditation manager to an officer as an additional duty, it would have been much more difficult. But, having Autumn to guide us and keep us on track was one of the biggest reasons for our success.
We went through some significant challenges during the process. Changing the agency administration, changing the culture of the agency to one of continuous improvement, and proving compliance with the standards was a triple challenge for us.
Coming in as chief it was somewhat easier on me because the direction had been set by the previous administrator, and my role was to keep us on that course by facilitating and communicating. I realized we didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, but only improve the wheel we had.
We are part of an educational institution, and we didn’t see any reason why we couldn’t learn from the standards and from other agencies; so the challenge was to make accreditation uniquely ours while following internationally accepted guidelines.
How has being accredited affected your department?
Chief Garrison: Our department was in an older building when we started the accreditation process. The process helped us in the planning of our new office by adding a unique perspective on how the new facility could enhance our effectiveness. The new facility allowed staff to realize that the old way of doing business, whether in a facility or following a policy, could be changed. Accreditation helped us think about things we never critically examined before.
Officers now have sound policies to rely on. They are fully capable of making good decisions, but having clear and concise policies can eliminate the guesswork that sometimes comes with ambiguous situations. Previously, as an agency, we would fall back on “this is the way we have always done it.” Accreditation, along with a clearly defined purpose, allows officers to refer to proven policies to guide their actions and decisions.
Having clear policies allows supervisors to be more effective. Officers don’t have to rely on supervisors so much because they can turn to policies, and the supervisors now know that if they are unavailable for any reason officers can refer to sound policies.
How has the campus community responded to the department’s achievement?
Chief Garrison: University leaders have been very supportive of the accreditation program and understand that the department is recognized as one that follows national best practices and is committed to safety and professionalism.
They [university leaders] will use it to promote the professionalism of the police department to new students, parents, and the surrounding community.
Have you thought about how your department will maintain accreditation?
Chief Garrison: Remaining accredited is the responsibility of everyone in the agency. Autumn keeps us on task, but all supervisors played a role in the initial accreditation and continue to play a role in making sure we maintain the standards. Everyone knows what we have to do to remain accredited and that we won’t be successful if we leave it to just the accreditation manager.
Autumn Stinchcomb: I keep the standards files up to date by adding reports and other proofs on almost a weekly basis. For example, when the patrol lieutenant completes line inspections and sends a copy of the report to me, I add it to the files.
Chief Garrison: We don’t want to get to a place three years down the road where we panic because we haven’t kept up with the proofs of the compliance.
The accreditation program taught us how to manage the proofs of compliance, and now that is part of our culture; it’s the way we do business.
What advice do you have for other chiefs who may be considering accreditation?
Chief Garrison: Accreditation has helped with our long-term strategy and day-to-day operations. The accreditation program process helped provide me with a strategic direction for the agency. When I don’t have the answers for policy decisions, I can look to the accreditation program to help find the answers. The accreditation program allowed me to say that this isn’t just my idea, but it is part of best practices. For example, the on-site report showed that we need to invest more in technology and strengthen our relationships with surrounding law enforcement agencies.
Being accredited has raised our profile among surrounding agencies to the point that they now ask us for advice about policies. Being a resource for another agency is something that we couldn’t have done before accreditation, but now we can do that.
We also use our accredited status when recruiting new officers—to demonstrate to them that we follow national best practices.
Autumn Stinchcomb: From my position, it is clear that the accreditation program allowed the department to identify what is important to us and helped us to establish a direction for the entire department.
Do you have any final thoughts?
Chief Garrison: When I moved from patrol sergeant to chief, I held a supervisors’ retreat. At that point, we were far into the self-assessment process, but still had more work to do. We didn’t have all the answers—and we knew that because of what we had learned from the accreditation program.
I asked: “what’s important to you?” From this, we developed organizational values and started to define the culture we wanted.
The accreditation program helped us think about customer service, policing at a level beyond just responding to calls for service, and led to the development of a unified purpose.
“The TWU DPS will maintain the highest standards of excellence in all facets of public service and will be considered by our university and our profession as one of the premier public safety agencies in the nation.”