Tustin Police Department aims to re-up ‘gold standard’ CALEA approval


For the fourth time in nearly a decade, the Tustin Police Department is working to earn what’s described as the “gold standard in public safety.”

That standard is a seal of approval from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), a Gainesville, Va.-based group created in 1979 to serve as a credentialing authority through the joint efforts of law enforcement’s major executive associations, according to its website.

Essentially, police departments boasting a CALEA seal have demonstrated compliance with high public safety industry standards.

Tustin first earned CALEA’s honor in 2011, an effort spearheaded by then-Police Chief Scott Jordan. The agency got re-accredited in 2014 and 2017 with help from Kristin Miller and Pat Welch, accreditation managers during that period.

From left, Melissa Laird, management analyst, Thao Nguyen, operations support division manager, and Katarina Thomas, police civilian commander, with the Tustin Police Department’s Certificate of Advanced Accreditation they received in 2017.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

For this fourth round, CALEA has new requirements that are making the process even more challenging, said Melissa Laird, management analyst.

Laird is part of the CALEA Team at Tustin PD, alongside Commander Katarina “Kat” Thomas and Thao Nguyen, operations support division manager.

To maintain CALEA’s standards, much of the department is thoroughly reviewed. Policies are re-written and proofs of compliance are continually provided to assessors.  Laird said they have to review an estimated 25 percent of their files each year as part of the annual web-based assessments.

“It’s a digital knock on your door, but they show up,” she said.

Tustin police will dig into their department stats, such as use-of-force statistics. Those kinds of examinations will help Tustin find trends and areas of improvement.

When CALEA officials do their on-site inspection of Tustin police facilities, they’ll judge things like security and access to property and evidence rooms. They’ll even look to see if officers are properly putting their weapons away when entering secured areas.

“It’s an ongoing effort,” Nguyen said. “We’re constantly reviewing our policies and updating them … we need buy-in at every level, from officers out in the field to the chief of police.”  Since that first accreditation in 2011, Laird said it has been a department-wide effort.

“It is a huge undertaking. All units and employees are involved,” Laird said. “(CALEA is) not just looking at our files and paperwork, but also ensuring that all members of the department are aware of the policies and executing them appropriately.”

 CALEA accreditation really emphasizes accountability and transparency among department personnel and the community. As such, CALEA will be interviewing Tustin residents, department employees, city officials, union leaders and will hold a public hearing, which allows stakeholders to provide input.

If all goes well, Tustin will receive its fourth CALEA accreditation during a conference scheduled to take place in November 2021 in Jacksonville, Fla.

Getting a CALEA seal is rare. In California, only 17 law enforcement agencies have it. In Orange County, in addition to Tustin, only Garden Grove, Buena Park and Cal State Fullerton police have earned the honor.

“It’s a lot of work,” Nguyen said. “But it’s something we’re pretty proud of.”