The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office is the latest local law enforcement agency to earn national accreditation.
After reviewing and retooling the agency's policies for more than 18 months, the office received a stamp of approval July 31 from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, an independent organization created by police groups to elevate national law-enforcement standards.
"This accreditation is a national seal of approval that recognizes that we've measured up to the highest standards," Sheriff P.J. Tanner said.
To earn accreditation, agencies must comply with more than 450 guidelines covering everything from vehicle chases to evidence collection.
Tanner said that after undergoing "a complete audit" of its policies, the office will be more accountable to taxpayers, less likely to face a lawsuit and more likely to receive grants and other funding.
"This should bring confidence to the community that the agency is performing in a professional manner," Tanner said.
The accreditation process began in December 2008, when former Beaufort police chiefs Jeff Dowling and Bill Neill were hired to manage the office's bid, which cost about $25,000 in fees.
Tanner said the former chiefs' experience was invaluable in helping steer the Sheriff's Office through the process, which can take as long as three years.
"We were fortunate to have Bill and Jeff, who have been through the accreditation process before and were able to get us accredited in about 18 months," Tanner said.
Dowling was chief when the Beaufort Police Department became the county's first accredited agency, in 2007. The Bluffton Police Department earned CALEA accreditation in 2009. The Beaufort Police Department opted not to spend $7,000 in fees and manpower to become re-accredited this year.
The former chiefs will remain at the Sheriff's Office to maintain the agency's accreditation and assist with internal and criminal investigations as needed, Tanner said. Each is being paid $60,000 a year, according to county officials.