Hartford Police

Face the Facts: Hartford Police Chief Talks About Importance of Tier I Accreditation

Hartford Police Chief Jason Thody explains the significance of the department's Tier 1 accreditation and what comes next.

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Police departments across the country have been under intense spotlight.

In recent years since the George Floyd case, both members of the public and even state lawmakers have been calling for changes in how the men and women in blue serve and protect.

Now, even before this national effort and conversation, however, the Hartford Police Department had been working for years to modernize and evolve. And this week, the department took a big step in that direction.

NBC Connecticut's Mike Hydeck spoke with Hartford Police Chief Jason Thody about the process and what it means for the police department to receive accreditation.

Mike Hydeck: This is something you personally have worked on for a long time, even before you became chief. How did you get started? And what did it take to accomplish this?

Jason Thody: Yeah, so back in 2012, I was asked to come in to start kind of a new unit called Planning and Accreditation, and seek to modernize the department's policies and procedures and enhance some training efforts and some other things to kind of advance the department forward and be a little bit more progressive. So I was the first one in the unit, as a lieutenant. Back then, I was able to bring in a sergeant after a little while. Sergeant Billy Rea, and then Sergeant Brian Bowsza, back then to give me a hand, but we quickly realized what a massive task it was going to be. We had over 400 policies in PDF forms, some of them were written on typewriters and photocopied dozens of times, and were difficult to even read. And we had to somehow turn that into something we could use to get the department accredited. And we quickly also learned that these weren't really policies that we should expect our officers to be following. They were outdated. They were old. No one in this department could be expected to know 400 individual policies. So you know, we had to kind of face some hurdles in, do we want to just get accredited and kind of check the boxes that say we've met certain standards? Or do we want to build a robust policy system that our officers can use to guide them in their day to day and meet accreditation standards? And that's what we picked. But as you know, it's been a long time coming and took a while to do all that. So I'm happy that I'm here to see it, to see it actually come to fruition.

Mike Hydeck: So as you whittle down the 400 some policies down I think I read to about 75, let's talk about a case in point to give people an idea of the things you are going through. For example, recently, we had a news story across the state where a prisoner was in New Haven police custody, he was handcuffed in a transport van, but wasn't seat belted. Is a transport policy something that you would use as a pillar to help people understand what their day to day work responsibility is?

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Jason Thody: Absolutely, we have a prisoner transport policy. You know, we had one in place before the tragedy in New Haven. But again, you know, you learn from those things as well. It's not just accreditation, it's real life issues like that, where obviously when something like that happens, we go back, and we look at our policy, and we see if there's changes that we can make. We discovered that, you know, we had an older prisoner transport van that was still in circulation that had, you know, straps for people to hold on to, but not seatbelts. So we were able to go back and rectify that as well. There's just there's so many things, policy just drives your day to day. The nice thing about accreditation is that it doesn't just examine your policies, but it makes you prove that you're doing those things. And that's a big deal. That's a big difference, too. It's one thing to write a bunch of policies, and throw them in a policy manual. It's another thing to make sure that your officers every day are following those best practices and following those standards. And accreditation looks at that, too. We had to provide proof. The 75 policies that I referenced are just the ones that they look at, and it's approximately 75, in Tier I accreditation, we have many more policies than those 75. But those are the ones that they evaluate in Tier I accreditation.

Mike Hydeck: Is Tier I the highest level of accreditation, when you say Tier I?

Jason Thody: So the state of Connecticut has three tiers. Tier I, Tier II and Tier III. Tier I is kind of the heaviest lift, it's your first, it's your entry into the accreditation world. And then Tier II and Tier III are the next two levels that we are currently seeking as well. So Tier III is the highest.

Mike Hydeck: I know you went through these policies and whittled them down and change them. Say you decide to make a change to a certain policy, does that have to go up the ladder to get approval to change that policy? Or is your unit responsible for doing that all by themselves?

Jason Thody: So the chief ultimately signs off on these policies. So back in 2012, when I was a lieutenant, you know, I sat down, we hired the Daigal Law Group, which is a law firm in the state that kind of specializes in police best practices and training. They came in and helped us with some of these because these policies have to pass legal muster. You know, if you get a lawsuit, we have to be able to show that these policies are lawful, they follow a state statute, they follow case law. So you have that to consider. You've got to make them usable enough so that an officer on the street can know what they should and shouldn't do. So there's a lot of moving parts to that. But yes, after we built the policy, after we wrote the policy, it would have to go for the chief's signature. So I was able to do that as a lieutenant, I was able to do that as a captain, and now I'm able to be the one that signs those policies. And that was a great deal of experience that helped me in the position that I sit in now as I read these policies, I know the work that goes into them. I know how they're coming to decide what's in those policies and what's not. Like anything, you know, some of those policies go above and beyond the accreditation standards or minimum standard.

Mike Hydeck: Last question. Transparency is a big issue with trust and police departments. And that's how police departments are trying to evolve. Is that list of policies available to the public?

Jason Thody: Yeah, so we started that program a little while back with Power DMS, our document management system, we have what's called forward facing policy. So if you go on our website, under About Us, you'll see that there's an entire section in there that actually has the policies. You know, when it comes to actual tactical operations and things like that, some of those policies are not public, because it could put officers at risk. But the majority of our policies, our new policies are on those forward facing policy website. So that's part of transparency as well.

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