Amid widespread mistrust of police in the United States, the Clayton Police Department appears almost too good to be true, according to the results of a recent accreditation assessment.
The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, or CALEA, examined the town’s police force over four days in July, finding little to improve upon or even criticize.
This is the department’s third accreditation in six years and its first under CALEA’s more rigorous Gold Standard, which includes on-site evaluations and reviews of files from three years. Previous assessments were in 2009 and 2012.
John Gregory, program manager for CALEA’s Mid-Atlantic region, said North Carolina has roughly 70 accredited law enforcement agencies, with a quarter of those meeting the Gold Standard.
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For Clayton’s accreditation, a team of two visited the town from July 19 to 22, observing officers, meeting with town employees and citizens and reviewing records. Their findings were squeaky clean.
“The team found all standards in compliance with no standards issues needing addressed,” read the summary of Clayton’s assessment.
“It’s virtually unheard of,” Police Chief Wayne Bridges told the Town Council, referring to the assessors’ lack of findings.
This is the first assessment of the department on Bridges’ watch. He became Clayton’s top cop in 2013, when Gov. Pat McCrory tapped former chief Glen Allen to lead the State Capitol police force.
In scrutinizing the department’s records, CALEA assessors looked for racial and gender bias in traffic stops and hiring practices. Over the three-year review period, 64 percent of tickets and warnings went to white drivers, nearly matching the town’s population, which is 65 percent white. A quarter of all traffic stops were black drivers, slightly more than the town’s black population of 21.8 percent, but the assessors found no evidence of bias.
In hiring, the assessors found room to improve the department’s diversity, with 86 percent of the force made up of white men. The police force has just six minority officers; its only female officer is white.
“The agency has not been successful in attaining a comparable proportion of its sworn force to the minority service population, particularly African-Americans,” the accreditation report stated.
As Clayton has continued to grow, so has its crime rate. The review saw an increase in robbery, aggravated assault and burglary and the first two murders in three years in 2014. From 2012 to 2013, calls for service dropped from 24,788 to 24,168 but shot up last year to 26,946.
“Obviously it’s something we watch very closely,” Bridges said. “But overall, the crime rate is so low, with just a few crimes. If you have a group of kids checking car doors to see if they’re unlocked, all of a sudden you have 40 additional larcenies. Because the total number is relatively low, it would appear as if we’ve had a huge increase.
“Last year, we had two homicides, and certainly that’s terrible, but we had a long stretch without a homicide for years.”
Before 2014, Clayton went at least five years without a murder, according to the department’s annual reports.
“The agency has responded to a 9-percent increase in demand for service, which is 50 percent greater than the reported increase in population during the same period,” the accreditation report stated.
Over the three years the accreditation covered, the department had 21 citizen complaints about officers and 12 internal complaints. Of the citizen complaints, six proved valid, 11 were baseless, and investigations found that the officers’ actions in the others were justified. Internally, eight complaints proved valid, and one was baseless, while investigations exonerated the officers in the other three. Over that same period, the chief suspended six officers, fired one, and three officers resigned. The report did not draw a correlation between complaints and disciplinary action.
In presenting the accreditation report to the council, Bridges noted meeting the Gold Standard would result in a 20-percent decrease in the department’s liability-insurance premium. The town paid $4,000 in accreditation costs. It should save $2,800 annually in insurance premiums.
“We’ve all seen on the news sights that are pretty unfortunate,” Councilman Michael Grannis said of police misbehavior. “This speaks very highly about what you do and what your team does. I’m very excited by this; it’s further proof that police departments can do it the right way.”
Drew Jackson; 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson