After a challenging year for police, Garden State police chiefs hope that increased transparency and policy reforms will strengthen the bond between law enforcement agencies and their communities.

At the forefront is the process of accreditation, which Sayreville Police Chief John Zebrowski, chaimanr of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police's Accreditation Commission, said is not only a huge honor for a police department, but also for its municipality or jurisdiction as a whole.

Accreditation means that a police unit meets the state's highest standards of professionalism. The most important in a series of several qualifications is a self-assessment that measures officers' accountability to themselves, that of an agency's management to its officers, and of that agency to the community at large.

Community members have the chance to weigh in on the effectiveness of their local police, broadening the scope of the evaluation.

"Far from being in a vacuum, it is absolutely an opportunity to reach out to the community and get an assessment as to how you're doing," Zebrowski said.

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It's not an easy process, and it's not as simple as an audit of incident data, but Zebrowski said 280 New Jersey agencies at various levels have gained the distinction, with those numbers steadily increasing in recent years.

"It is also an issue to see if your facility itself is up to standards and is safe, and provides a healthy working environment," he said.

On the individual level, it offers each officer a chance to discover what is expected of them moving forward, and what the public wants its police force to be.

Zebrowski said other states are now coming to New Jersey for advice on how to make improvements to their departments, but the work is not done here; even those agencies that achieve accreditation must go through a renewal every three years.

Still, he said, the Garden State should be proud.

"We're considered to be an industry leader when it comes to training and accreditation that's available for the law enforcement community," Zebrowski said.

Accreditation is just one part of a "robust catalog" of training opportunities offered by NJSACOP, according to Zebrowski, including a New Chiefs Mentoring Program.

He said due to heavy turnover in New Jersey police departments in the last couple of years, for a variety of reasons, some new chiefs may have jumped a rank or two, and an officer is never truly prepared for all the responsibilities of that rank unless and until he or she sits in the chief's position.

So, this program in particular is designed with an eye toward the future.

"To be able to bounce off questions, to be able to understand how certain things work, is really a great opportunity for success," Zebrowski said.

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