Former Beaufort chiefs join sheriff in quest for accreditation

With Beaufort County Sheriff's Office pins fastened to their lapels, two former Beaufort Police chiefs promised to help their new employer receive the same national recognition the city's police force earned more than a year ago.

Jeff Dowling and Bill Neill, both of whom served lengthy tenures with the Beaufort Police Department, were introduced Monday as the co-managers of the Sheriff's Office's accreditation process, which is expected to take more than a year and a half and cost the county more than $25,000.

The Sheriff's Office seeks certification by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, an independent commission created by police groups to develop standards for state-of-the-art law enforcement.

"This is something we've been looking at since I took office 10 years ago," said Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner.

"Timing is everything in our business, and we're now in the perfect position to begin the accreditation process for the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office. The benefit of doing this now is that we have two guys who are well-known in South Carolina and in Beaufort County and have been through the accreditation process."

Fewer than 30 law enforcement agencies in the state have earned CALEA's accreditation. The Beaufort Police Department is the only accredited agency in Beaufort County, having earned the commission's approval in July 2007 during Dowling's tenure as chief.

The Bluffton Police Department is halfway through the accreditation process, according to CALEA's Web site.

To earn CALEA's approval, the Sheriff's Office must adhere to more than 450 guidelines, covering everything from vehicle chases to evidence collection to the agency's relationship with news media.Dowling and Neill said they were excited to help make Beaufort County's one of only seven sheriff's offices in the state to earn accreditation.

"They've been in good shape all along, so we're going to take a great agency and take it to the next level," Dowling said. "CALEA isn't only a winning aspect for the agency but also for the citizens."

Dowling retired on Election Day after more than three decades with the Beaufort Police Department, including eight years as police chief. Maj. Matt Clancy was appointed interim chief by city manager Scott Dadson following Dowling's resignation.

Neill, Dowling's predecessor as Beaufort's top cop, stepped down from his post as director of the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy in March, a job he took in 2000 after a seven-year stint as Beaufort police chief.

A Beaufort native, Neill began his law enforcement career in 1971 with the Orangeburg Police Department and was chief of police in Camden for five years before returning to Beaufort.

The two men were expected to leave for Tulsa, Okla., today to attend classes to become accreditation managers.

Neill said the opportunity to work with his former colleague was enough to bring him out of retirement.

"Jeff and I worked together for years," Neill said. "So the sheriff's concept of Jeff and I back working together is a great one. We work very well together."

The pair will report directly to Chief Deputy Michael Hatfield and likely will be kept on even after the agency earns accreditation, Tanner said.

CALEA requires an annual review to maintain an accreditation.