Public gets to weigh in on whether Sheriff's Office merits accreditation

Beaufort County residents will have a chance this weekend to say whether the Sheriff's Office should receive national accreditation, a designation officials say will make it more accountable to taxpayers, less likely to face a lawsuit for misconduct and increase its chances of receiving grants and other funding.

Residents and agency employees can give their thoughts on the office's ability to comply with more than 450 guidelines Sunday in the County Council Chambers. The guidelines set by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies cover everything from vehicle chases to evidence collection to the office's relationship with the media.

"We want the citizens to come and be a part of this process," said Sgt. Robin McIntosh, sheriff's spokeswoman. "We want their input."

Sunday's session is part of an on-site assessment by CALEA inspectors to ensure the office complies with the commission's guidelines.

The accreditation process began in December 2008 when Sheriff P.J. Tanner hired former Beaufort police chiefs Jeff Dowling and Bill Neill and paid them each $60,000 to manage the office's bid for accreditation.

Since then, the pair has been reviewing and retooling hundreds of internal policies to provide to CALEA inspectors for their approval.

The Sheriff's Office would be the third police force in Beaufort County to earnaccreditation from CALEA, an independent commission created by police groups to elevate national law-enforcement standards.

The Beaufort Police Department was accredited in 2007 and the Bluffton Police Department last year.

Accredited agencies must apply to be recertified every three years.