BERRYVILLE — A heavy workload has prevented Police Chief Neal White from devoting as much time as he planned to seeking state accreditation for the Berryville Police Department.

That has pushed back the effort by about six months, White estimates. Still, earning accreditation from the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission (VLEPSC) remains a high priority for him.

Being unaccredited doesn’t mean that a law-enforcement agency is incapable. Rather, accreditation simply proves the professionalism of the agency and its employees.

White hoped to have the police department accredited by July 2020, when the next fiscal year starts. He said he now hopes it will earn accreditation by March 2021.

A component of the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, the VLEPSC is comprised of Virginia Sheriff’s Association and Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police representatives. As part of the accreditation process, the police department’s operations must be thoroughly reviewed by a team of law-enforcement professionals representing those organizations.

Before the review, the department must extensively document that it has high standards for protecting the public. That takes time.

White said, though, that in recent months, he has been involved in various special projects of the town, such as reviewing and updating ordinances and the employee expectations manual. Regular responsibilities also have gotten in the way, he said.

Including White, the department has nine sworn officers. The other eight are on regular patrols. As a result, White himself must handle most administrative responsibilities and other work required to keep the department going on a day-to-day basis, said Town Manager Keith Dalton.

And, sometimes White must do patrols, such as when an officer is out sick or on vacation, Dalton recently told Berryville Town Council.

“Things just keep popping up,” White said.

Berryville is a small town, so it can’t afford to have as many employees as larger towns and cities. Therefore, Dalton said, department heads must be involved in day-to-day tasks.

“They’re not just sitting in their offices preparing reports for me,” he said. “The department heads in this organization are working department heads.”

For instance, he mentioned, Public Works Director Rick Boor gets in the trenches to install and repair water and sewer lines, just like the workers he supervises.

“That’s not something you find in a lot of communities,” said Councilwoman Donna Marie McDonald.

White is no different.

He said he aims to devote more time to the accreditation process. Yet to a large degree, he said, exactly how much time he can devote to the process will “depend on what other projects come to the forefront” of police and town affairs.

According to the VLEPSC’s website, accreditation is aimed to improve a law enforcement agency’s ability to prevent and control crime by providing more effective and efficient services to the community. It also is intended to help enhance public understanding of the agency and its role in the community. Residents are more likely to cooperate with police when they understand, and have confidence in, the department’s policies and procedures.

If an accreditation team was to find problems in the department’s operations, it would give the department time to correct them before returning for a reinspection, White has said.

U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics show there are roughly 340 city, town, county and state law-enforcement agencies in Virginia. Yet only about 100 are state accredited, the commission’s website shows. Among them are the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office as well as the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Winchester Police Department and the Winchester Sheriff’s Office.

— Contact Mickey Powell at mpowell@winchesterstar.com

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