After three years of changes and lots of paperwork, the Bellevue Police Department is on the verge of joining an elite group. Judges from the Commission on Accreditation for Law...

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After three years of changes and lots of paperwork, the Bellevue Police Department is on the verge of joining an elite group.

Judges from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) are in town this week to check out the department. The commission offers the only national police standards in the country, and it has accredited fewer than 10 percent of the nation’s law-enforcement agencies.

The judges will leave today after a five-day visit, and they are expected to give Bellevue their approval.

“Unless a train fell off the tracks somewhere, I’d be pretty shocked if they didn’t [get accredited],” said Christie Goddard, a CALEA program manager.

Besides being a source of pride, the approval would reflect several upgrades to police operations.

The 280-person department now has its first internal-affairs unit. Patrol officers work in the same neighborhoods for a year rather than three months.

Victims of violent crimes are more likely to get better information about their cases. And department officials now do more detailed long-range planning.

Accredited agencies

Washington police agencies that have received approval from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies:

Auburn, Edmonds, Kent, Redmond, Renton, Seattle, Kennewick, Federal Way, Snohomish, Washington State Patrol, Clark County Sheriff’s Office, Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife Enforcement Program

“We’ve just raised the bar a bit in our professionalism and our ability to provide service to the community,” said Capt. Bill Ferguson, who has worked full time for three years on the accreditation.

Much of the work involved putting even the smallest rules on paper and then having the paperwork to prove the rules were being followed. The department must meet about 400 CALEA standards.

The effort started in 2001, at the suggestion of Bellevue City Manager Steve Sarkozy. Police Chief Jim Montgomery said the department had enjoyed a stellar reputation but didn’t have many of its policies written down.

Bellevue would become the 14th police agency in the state — and the third-largest — to receive CALEA approval. Among the others are Redmond, Renton, Kent and Seattle, which was accredited last year.

Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said people prefer accredited institutions, just as they do with hospitals and colleges.

“The general public’s knowledge of policing is pretty much what they see on television, but people understand accreditation,” he said.

CALEA, based in Fairfax, Va., was formed in 1979 by four police groups, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Sheriffs’ Association. It has accredited about 700 law-enforcement agencies.

The CALEA board is expected to accredit the Bellevue department officially in March.

City residents “can take some assurance that we’re among a very rare group,” Montgomery said.

The department will pay CALEA about $20,000 for the accreditation, including applications and the time spent in Bellevue by the judges. Officers also spent thousands of hours over three years getting the department in line, a cost that is harder to quantify.

“Before accreditation, we were a busy department,” Ferguson said. “After accreditation, we’re a very busy department.”

The department will be up for reaccreditation every three years.

“It’s been worth it,” Ferguson said. “I think we’re going to get better and better.”

Ashley Bach: 206-464-2567 or