I just received the following press release from the town of Hillsborough. I wonder what impact this will have on the sheriff's race, where (recently) former Hillsborough Police Chief Clarence Birkhead is challenging incumbent Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass, with early voting starting today. Because this is the first I have heard of this issue, I have no idea if it's significant that the town chose to put out a press release today, as opposed to waiting until the investigation was completed. The timing seems odd to me, and from the press release it's unclear that the police department (or its leadership) did anything wrong if indeed their accrediting agency instructed them to backdate reports. Is there anyone more familiar with this issue who can comment?
Hillsborough Town Manager Eric Peterson is nearing the end of an investigation regarding improper recordkeeping in the Police Department’s CALEA accreditation process.
The investigation has revealed that department staff backdated documents created to demonstrate compliance with various CALEA standards.
“No indications of any problems regarding criminal record keeping and felony prosecution files have been found,” the town manager said.
CALEA — the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies — is a nonprofit credentialing organization. It provides law enforcement agencies the opportunity to voluntarily demonstrate that they meet an established set of professional standards. Hillsborough is one of 28 municipal police departments in North Carolina accredited by CALEA.
CALEA has approximately 460 standards that require proof of compliance. These standards include requiring a law enforcement agency to develop a comprehensive, uniform set of written directives. Hillsborough’s investigation found a failure to maintain timely documentation with at least 16 standards, which were backdated to make it appear the paperwork was done according to schedule.
“Informing CALEA of these infractions and removing the backdated documents from the accreditation files are the two most important steps — this has been done,” Hillsborough’s town manager said.
“The primary reason for participating in the CALEA accreditation process is to give the citizens, town management, and elected officials a high level of confidence that their police department is meeting or exceeding recognized law enforcement standards. The most disappointing and baffling aspect of this entire situation is that the backdating was not necessary to maintain compliance. It was quite frankly senseless.”
The investigation of the Police Department’s accreditation process began in late October when Peterson received a complaint.
“The town manager’s investigation has been timely, thoughtful, careful and thorough,” Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens said.
He noted that town commissioners have been briefed regularly on the investigation’s status.
“What we feel is enormously distressed,” the mayor said, “and we’re going to do what we need to do to get back on track.”
More detail is provided below on the improper recordkeeping and the actions taken to correct the problem. A list of the CALEA standards in which backdating was uncovered also is provided.
For more information on CALEA, visit its Web site at www.calea.org.
What Was the Problem?
Hillsborough Police Department staff failed to maintain timely documentation related to at least 16 CALEA standards. In an attempt to correct the deficient recordkeeping and to meet the CALEA standards, some documents — mostly memoranda of events or circumstances occurring in 2008 and 2009 — were backdated to make it appear the paperwork was done according to schedule.
It would have been acceptable practice — and it would have satisfied CALEA standards — to acknowledge the deadlines had been missed, show how the department had complied, and properly date the documents. This was not done in these 16 cases; thus, the intent and purpose of participating in the accreditation process was undermined.
How Did This Happen?
The accreditation manager directed Police Department staff in many of these situations to backdate the documents to make it appear that the department had provided timely compliance with the standard. Former Police Chief Clarence Birkhead was aware of and produced backdated documents.
Department staff have indicated that the accreditation manager told them the backdating practice is acceptable to CALEA and is done by other agencies. The town manager’s investigation and discussions with CALEA officials indicate this practice is not acceptable.
What Has Been Done About It?
- The town manager has been in contact with CALEA officials to make them aware of the situation, to confirm whether this is a problem and to obtain guidance on how to respond to the situation. Contact was initiated with CALEA in February and has continued since that time.
- The backdated documents have been removed from the files and will be replaced with accurate and proper documentation.
- Acting Police Chief Davis Trimmer has directed staff to go through all CALEA-related documentation to double-check and remove any other documentation that may not have been properly dated.
- It has been made clear to departmental staff that backdating of documents is not an accepted practice.
“It is far better to be non-compliant with a standard and even to lose accredited status than to misrepresent the time when documentation took place,” the town manager said.
- CALEA officials have requested documentation regarding the findings and have indicated they likely will need to investigate the matter as well as report the situation to their commission.
What Else Will Be Done?
- Once another review of the files is done and the investigation is completed, the town manager or acting police chief will:
- Send written notification to CALEA to disclose the instances of backdating that were found.
- Explain what steps were taken to remove any questionable documentation.
- Explain what actions were and will be taken to ensure this does not happen again.
- The Police Department will fully cooperate with CALEA and provide whatever information is requested as it reviews this situation.
- Department and town officials will work with CALEA to determine whether to continue with its current reaccreditation efforts. An official on-site inspection for reaccreditation, which is done every three years, is scheduled for August. The Police Department originally was scheduled to have the inspection in April. It failed an earlier practice assessment last October, and the department postponed a follow-up mock assessment several times until former Chief Birkhead requested and was granted an extension earlier this year.
CALEA Standards in Which Backdating Was Found
The backdated documents found include CALEA standards that address how to handle the following:
- Off-duty employment
- Field Training Officer Selection Process: recruitment and selection process
- Establishment of a training committee
- Sexual harassment complaints
- Inspection of the processing room
- Prisoner transportation
- Five-year crime analysis
- Employee representation of counsel
- Search and rescue
- Critical incidents
- VIP security plan
- Personnel Early Warning System
- Victim intimidation
- Assigning a victim advocate
- Next-of-kin notifications