The Kansas Highway Patrol joined a limited number of law enforcement agencies awarded a “gold standard” accreditation from the nation’s only independent accrediting organization.

The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Inc., known as CALEA, awarded KHP accreditation earlier this year. The achievement will be formally announced Tuesday at a ceremony in the Kansas Statehouse. For the department, it is the culmination of two years of self evaluation and review, Col. Mark Bruce, KHP superintendent, said.

“When you start looking at yourself, taking that internal reflection, you sometimes don’t like what you see,” Bruce said. “Not that anything was bad, but there were certain areas with some head scratching and a real shift from how things were handled.”

For the general public who encounter a trooper during a traffic stop or after a crash, the accreditation may not be obvious. Department changes are largely behind the scenes, but Bruce said the accreditation means the KHP is held to the highest standards in areas that include use of force and public interaction.

KHP used CALEA standards to write best-practice guidelines and then submitted audits and reviews proving the department followed those standards, said Christi Asbe, accreditation manager. The process, typically spanning three years, started in January 2016. For an agency of more than 800, including 475 troopers, “tearing up” department standards and implementing new guidelines was a costly and time-consuming process that Bruce said was vital to ensuring the agency remains progressive in policing.

“When you’re talking about change, and change in culture in some respects, it can be difficult,” he said. “We’ve made the claim that people respect the highway patrol, but this shows we’re willing to continue to improve as an agency.”

The department’s robust evidence storage system saw the largest change, Asbe said.

Under CALEA, quarterly, annual and surprise inspections of KHP’s eight storage lockers ensure evidence is properly tracked and kept.

In the past, storage was not necessarily chaotic but certainly could have been organized better, Bruce said. In some cases, evidence was stored in Kansas Department of Transportation facilities around the state possibly indefinitely. Under CALEA-inspired guidelines, rules are in place for where and for how long evidence can be kept.

“It’s kind of like going through your house looking for something. You know it’s there, but you can’t find it,” Bruce said. “Nothing was lost or stolen, but the process now is much more clear.”

The CALEA accreditation also comes with steeper guidelines for use of force and pursuit. Those guidelines are constantly under review and evolve with input for law enforcement across the country, Bruce said.

KHP historically tracked the number of times troopers used force, Bruce said, but the department rarely analyzed that data. CALEA expect agencies to track trends and patterns to identify areas of concerns.

“It’s all about identifying equipment and training needs,” Bruce said.

While some states provide accreditation standards, Kansas does not, Bruce said. Law enforcement organizations like the International Association of Chiefs of Police also provide best practice guidelines, but CALEA is the only independent accrediting agency. CALEA’s review board is comprised of law enforcement officials, politicians, city leaders and academics.

That board questioned Bruce about the department’s operations, and assessors visited troop headquarters across the state. Annually, KHP will submit reports to CALEA and every four years the agency will conduct in-person audits, Asbe said.

“I expect we won’t find everything is perfect,” she said. “There’s that human component. But we want to continue to improve.”

It’s uncommon for a law enforcement agency to receive CALEA’s accreditation.

In Kansas only nine agencies have made the cut and KHP is the first state-wide department. Nationwide, only about 5 percent of police departments qualify, Bruce said.

Among those agencies is the Topeka Police Department, which earned the accreditation in 2000. Chief Bill Cochran said the accreditation ensures that department policies are continually reviewed.

“What it means (to the general public) is that we’re held to higher standard than other agencies,” he said. “There’s an accountability standard the department has to meet and maintain.”

KHP made an initial attempt at accreditation in the mid-1990s, but Bruce said efforts fell by the wayside. The accreditation was one of his goals as superintendent.

“I think this is something troopers and Kansans can be proud of,” Bruce said. “This is a gold standard.”