Policing standards in Florida are always changing. Two notable changes in the past year and a half address chokeholds and the “duty to intervene.” Chokeholds by law enforcement officers are all but banned, at least according to the new standard, except in cases when the officer’s life is at risk. And the “duty to intervene” requires officers to intervene and presumably stop and act of excessive violence on a civilian by a fellow-officer.
Both new standards were developed by the Florida Commission on Law Enforcement Accreditation, the organization created by the Florida Sheriffs’ Association and the Florida Police Chiefs’ Association following a 1993 directive by the state Legislature to create a uniform, statewide law enforcement accreditation program. Accreditation is voluntary. But it’s both a sign of distinction among law enforcement agencies and of reassurance to the public: accreditation means an agency abides by rules and professionalism that keeps cops from unaccountably going rogue.
Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly has been serving as one of the 15 commissioners since 2018, when there was an opening on the panel and then-Florida Sheriff’s Association President Sheriff Jerry Demings of Orange County selected him. Months later Staly was appointed to the sheriffs’ association itself. He became the accreditation panel’s vice chairman last year. Last week, he was elected chairman for a one-year term.
He’ll still be one vote among 15. But He’ll be setting the panel’s agenda–it meets three times a year–and carry any chairman’s added weight in steering discussions and the panel’s direction.
“It means that the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office is recognized as a leader in law enforcement today across the state of Florida, when your sheriff gets selected to be the chairman,” Staly said. “Hopefully the community will realize what a feather in the agency’s cap that is, just like me being the chairman of the board of directors of the Florida Youth Ranches or a member of the Florida Sheriff’s Association. You don’t get these kids of positions unless your agency is held in high regard and esteem.” He acknowledged the honor of being chosen by his peers, who, on that panel–and by law–include sheriffs, police chiefs, a circuit judge (Adrian Soud of the Fourth Circuit in Jacksonville), an inspector general, a member of the Florida Department of Financial Services, and a mayor, who happens to be Demings.
Just as notably, accreditation itself is playing a more prominent role in the last few years because of the greater scrutiny of police agencies that’s resulted from the Black Lives Matter movement and ongoing debates about use of force. The standards, which are constantly evolving–Staly calls them “living documents”–are a reflection of policing’s adaptation to new norms. “There’s not a commission meeting that goes by that we don’t refine or adjust or add new standards,” the sheriff said. In Flagler, two civilian employees at the Sheriff’s Office ensure that the agency stays in compliance with the changing standards.
“If you want to ensure that you are a cutting edge, modern law enforcement agency, then you must meet these standards,” Staly said. “It’s a rigorous process to become accredited. And you have to maintain them. You are assessed every three years, on-site assessors come in, you have to prove to that assessment team that you’re maintaining the standards. In other words you’re practicing what you say your policies are. We take it serious. Since I’ve been on a commission we revoked the Broward County Sheriff’s Office accreditation status after the Stoneman Douglas shooting. Serious we take it.”
Any proposed new standard or re-interpretation of an existing standard is brought before the Standard Review Interpretation Committee–on which Staly served as chairman and vice chairman. Anybody can submit a recommendation. The committee reviews it, submits it to the full 15-commissioner panel, and a vote is taken, approving or rejecting the new standard. So the commission has a direct hand in defining what amounts to proper policing, and what does not. That’s how the “duty to intervene” and the chokehold standard emerged.
“We tell agencies, this is a standard that you have to comply with.” Staly said, “We give them the flexibility to write their own policies, as long as it complies with the standard.”
Just last week, the Flagler County jail was re-accredited by the commission, remaining one of just 35 jails in the state to have the distinction. The jail had not been accredited before October 2018. The accreditation is overseen by a different panel through the same organization, the Corrections Accreditation Commission. That panel voted unanimously to re-accredit the jail, which was found to be 100 percent compliant with 261 mandatory and optional standards, which far exceeds the minimum number of standards required for accreditation. , and when it did so, Staly told the commissioners he was dedicating the re-accreditation to fallen Detention Deputy First Class Paul Luciano. Luciano died in late August after contracting Covid-19, becoming the first detention deputy to die in the line of duty in Flagler.
The following day–the day Staly became chairman–the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office itself earned its sixth re-accreditation, meeting 239 mandatory and optional standards. The agency received its first accreditation in 2005, under then-Sheriff Don Fleming. (An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the accreditation was awarded under Sheriff Jim Manfre. The accreditation process had started and almost completed under Manfre, but was granted two months into Fleming’s administration.) The distinction makes the Sheriff’s Office a “4-Diamond agency,” as it described it in a release last week, with the corrections accreditation and from the Florida Tele-Communicators Accreditation Commission and the National Institute of Ethics.
There are 177 accredited law enforcement agencies and 38 inspector general offices accredited in the state.
“To be asked to lead the statewide commission setting the standards to ensure professional excellence and integrity for all law enforcement officers in the third largest state in America speaks very clearly about how trusted and respected Sheriff Staly is here and across the State of Florida,” Joe Saviak, formerly the Sheriff’s Office’s director of leadership development, said today. “It’s a tremendous honor and citizens can be proud of their Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.”