RIDGEWOOD, NJ — The Ridgewood Police Department is seeking re-accreditation with the Coalition of Accredited Law Enforcement Agencies, and their review begins Tuesday.

CALEA will use a team of assessors to review the department, and determine if it follows best practice standards.

Personnel will be interviewed and proof of compliance will be presented to assessors, but the reviewers will also seek public comment.

A call-in session will be hosted on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m., and a second public hearing — via Zoom — will follow at 6 p.m.

Public comment during both sessions are limited to five to 10 minutes, and must address the department’s ability to comply with CALEA standards.

To reach an assessor via phone on Wednesday, call (201)857-5734.

The Zoom information is as follows:

Generally, these sessions would be held in person, but according to a news release from the department, the coronavirus pandemic is forcing much of the assessment to be conducted virtually.

Written comments will also be accepted, according to the news release, and can be sent to CALEA by writing to:

Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (“CALEA”), 13575 Heathcote Boulevard, Suite 320, Gainesville, Virginia 20155.

Prior to these public hearings, here’s what you should know:

What are the standards?

Golden, apparently.

According to the CALEA website, the set of standards put forth by the organization are the “gold standard in public safety.”

The organization was created in 1979 as a “credentialing authority through the joint efforts of law enforcement’s major executive associations.”

Ridgewood, according to the news release, has the longest continuously accredited law enforcement agency in New Jersey, having been accredited for the first time in 1996.

In total there are 484 CALEA best practice standards, according to a news release from the department.

These standards are wide-ranging, covering topics such as bias, evidence collection, internal affairs and public information.

Within those categories — and more — the criteria delves deeper into specifics.

For example, there are 13 criteria that must be met under the use of force standards, which cover aspects of use of force including:

  • The use of reasonable force
  • Use of deadly force
  • Warning shots
  • Use of authorized less-lethal weapons
  • Rendering aid after use of weapons
  • Reporting uses of force
  • Reviewing reported uses of force
  • Removal from line of duty assignment relating to the use of force
  • Authorization: weapons and ammunition
  • Demonstrating proficiency with weapons
  • Annual and biennial proficiency training
  • Issuing written directives
  • Analyzing reported uses of force

Mind you, this is just one subsection of the larger law enforcement role and authority standards, which also include regulations regarding limits to authority and agency defining language such as their code of ethics and oath of office.

Other standards to be reviewed include bias based profiling, command protocol, entry level training, grievance procedures and emotional stability and psychological fitness examinations.

The full list of standards can be found here: https://bit.ly/2E0yNvb

Anything to worry about?

That probably depends on who you ask.

Ridgewood police officers were recorded making two controversial arrests in July — which gained a level of relative virality — and local and state activists have called for added accountability and transparency within the department.

The second instance, in which a teenage bicyclist was arrested in what some are calling an unnecessary use of force.

The two arresting officers were placed on administrative duty, something that correlates with what Police Chief Jacqueline Luthcke says is a standard investigation into any use of force arrest.

Young people of color were arrested in both instances, which sparked additional outrage among area residents.

“We keep saying: ‘not in our town…’ ‘not our police…’ but living while black or brown is dangerous everywhere in America,” said Glen Rock council member Arati Kreibich, in a tweet.

Ridgewood for Black Liberation, an anti-racist organization, released a statement condemning the department’s actions, but group members said they weren’t unusual.

“Ridgewood police used excessive and unacceptable use of force against a latinx minor today in RW. Officer grabbed his neck, pushed him to the ground,” the group wrote.

One of the group’s founding members, Thria Bernabe, was arrested during a July 4 protest.

The group has started a petition to have her charges dropped, and her attorney, Gregory M. Jachts, penned a letter to Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in which he requested that the AG’s Office open an investigation into unconstitutional policing by the department.

The department, for their part, has held steady in defense of their officers.

A lengthy statement was offered following the arrest of the teenage bicyclist detailing a rowdy group that eluded police in two other municipalities, and causes safety hazards for motorists.

Safety reasons were also the given reason for the July 4 arrest of Bernabe, who police charged with obstructing a highway or other public passage.

“The Ridgewood Police Department fully supports the right of citizens to protest peacefully and safely,” Luthcke said. “We also support the rights of citizens to be free from others imposing upon their civil liberties.”

It’s unclear how much these moments could impact the accreditation review, which will likely take some time to complete.

This week will only be the first part of the process, as the assessors will need to finish the review and report back to the commission prior to an official decision being handed down, the department said.

“As always, we are proud to serve the fine community of Ridgewood as we have since 1894 and we look forward to continuing our service to you through professionalism and pride in the future,” the release read.

Ridgewood Police Seek Reaccreditation After Controversial Summer

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