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N.J. police department’s path to accreditation: A model for standardizing police operations

Under Elizabeth PD Chief Giacommo Sacca’s leadership, the department has embraced the vital role of accreditation in modern policing

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When Sacca became police chief in 2020, becoming accredited was a top priority.

Photo/Elizabeth Police Department’s Facebook page

In a significant stride toward enhancing police accountability and bolstering community trust in law enforcement, President Joe Biden’s executive order issued in 2022 laid the groundwork for a transformative approach to the accreditation of police departments across the United States.

The executive order mandated the establishment of new, rigorous standards for the accreditation of law enforcement agencies, including the requirement for accrediting bodies to perform independent assessments of agencies’ adherence to the criteria – moving away from the practice of departments self-certifying their compliance.

Moreover, the executive order mandated that the attorney general actively incentivized and assisted agencies in their pursuit of accreditation through grant funding.

In Elizabeth, New Jersey, becoming accredited was a no-brainer for Police Chief Giacommo Sacca.

Making accreditation a priority in law enforcement

Sacca joined the Elizabeth Police Department in 1995, climbing the ranks throughout the years until he was sworn in as chief in 2020. The department has 365 sworn officers and employs 118 civilians, responding to approximately 200,000 calls for service per year.

Accreditation, Sacca says, changes an agency from being “created by people who have a single perspective as to how things should operate as opposed to professionalizing the agency by implementing best practices, standards and policies.”

The department first attempted accreditation in 2015 but they were unable to complete the process. When Sacca became police chief, becoming accredited was a top priority.

“When I became chief in 2020, we started the accreditation process and we completed that in 2021,” Sacca said. “The key to it getting done that fast? If you have a dedicated leader that wants it, it will get done. If the leader of an agency deems that this is the important thing that we need and then can convince the staff to do it, then that’s what gets done. The key is getting buy-in from the stakeholders as to how it’s going to benefit the agency.”

The accreditation process, though varying in specifics, generally follows these steps:

  • Register with the accrediting body and designate an accreditation manager
  • Update policies to comply with standards and train staff on the policies
  • Compile evidence of compliance, such as reports, photos, audits, evaluations, training, body camera footage, etc.
  • Perform a mock assessment for accreditation readiness
  • Undergo and pass an official assessment by the accrediting body
  • Recertify as required, typically every two to five years
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Accreditation offers several benefits, including:

  • Building stronger community ties through accountability and transparency
  • Lowering risk by adhering to best practices
  • Cutting costs through lower insurance premiums and increased efficiency
  • Boosting professionalism through high-standard training
  • Raising staff confidence, aiding in recruitment and retention

For example, if officers are processing evidence the way they’re supposed to – and someone is checking that it’s being processed the proper way – then the officers reduce the risk of losing a court case due to improper collection of evidence.

“That goes across the board with all policies,” Sacca said. “Like having a policy that says you must check [a patrol vehicle’s] back seat every time. And then someone checks that officers check the back seat every time. Then, the officers know they must check the back seat every time. That keeps them safe from weapons getting into their back seat. Whereas if you had that policy, but no one ever checked it or checked on the officers, the policy doesn’t keep them safe because they may not be doing it. Accreditation forces you to not cut corners.”

However, the process of becoming accredited can still feel daunting for many departments. That’s why the Elizabeth Police Department used Lexipol’s Law Enforcement Accreditation Service to manage its accreditation process.

Hiring an outside agency for accreditation

Police departments are limited in the research and sources they can use to develop policies and procedures.

“By using a company like Lexipol, someone is doing that work for you and it makes the process go smoother and faster,” Sacca said. “Lexipol is not only giving you a product, but they’re also receiving feedback from their customers. With a Lexipol policy, they’re constantly updating and redeveloping those policies and procedures based on that customer feedback.”

Currently, accreditation is a voluntary process at the national level, overseen by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). According to 2020 statistics from the Department of Justice, roughly 838 of approximately 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States are accredited – meaning less than 1% of law enforcement agencies hold some form of accreditation.

At present, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Oregon and South Carolina have passed legislation requiring law enforcement agencies within their jurisdiction to obtain accreditation. This move is part of a broader trend toward enhancing police accountability and professionalism through standardized practices.

“Accreditation should be an accepted standard departments have to achieve,” Sacca said. “If you look at police departments that are going through a crisis within their agency, there could be a common thread of not being accredited.”

That’s why Sacca says he looks at his budget as to what it will cost him, instead of what he must spend: “The investment in accreditation is a buy now, save later investment. By having these policies and procedures in place, whatever it costs you is going to be that much less in the very first settlement that you don’t have to make because of it.”

Looking to navigate the complexities of public safety policies? Lexipol is your go-to source for state-specific, fully-developed policy services. Designed by industry experts and legal professionals, Lexipol ensures your policies are always up-to-date, reflecting the latest standards, laws and best practices. Contact Lexipol at 844-312-9500 for expert assistance or request a demo.

Sarah Calams, who previously served as associate editor of and, is the senior editor of and In addition to her regular editing duties, Sarah delves deep into the people and issues that make up the public safety industry to bring insights and lessons learned to first responders everywhere.

Sarah graduated with a bachelor’s degree in news/editorial journalism at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. Have a story idea you’d like to discuss? Send Sarah an email or reach out on LinkedIn.