WEST VALLEY CITY — Reputations are tough to shake, especially for the West Valley City Police Department.
"We know the history,” said Chief Lee Russo. “You can't change that.”
Russo was aware of the department's problems when he took the job three years ago coming from Kentucky. "There were a lot of confidence concerns and trust issues,” Russo said. “We had a flashpoint moment with a shooting, and then a scandal in our narcotics unit."
Russo has been working to change that reputation ever since. "That was probably one of the toughest times for this department,” he said, “but sometimes you've got to hit the bottom, so you can start climbing back to the top."
For the last three years, the department has been trying to get nationally certified with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. It's essentially the gold standard for police departments across the country.
"What this tells the community is that their police department is looking forward,” said commission assessor Darrin Abbink. “They're looking to advance the organization and make it better.”
Assessors with the accreditation commission have been in West Valley City the past couple of weeks, seeing what the department does, how it reacts to scenarios, and what their policies say on some 400 different topics.
"(Policies) such as police pursuits, use of force, use of deadly force,” said Rob Sofie, also an assessor for the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. “Those types of scenarios where they want to make sure their police departments and their officers are responding according to best practices.”
Less than 5 percent of law enforcement agencies across the country have this honor, and right now, no agency in Utah has it. To Russo, that means something.
"This is a commitment to our community of transparency,” Russo said. “It's a commitment to continual improvement. It’s not like we're going to stop with this accreditation once we get it. We have to continue to maintain it and demonstrate our competency over and over again.”
It hasn't been easy, but the chief feels it's worth it. Russo is just asking for residents to give his department a new chance.
"We know each and every encounter we have is an opportunity to prove ourselves and our worth to the community," he said.
The West Valley City Police Department will find out if it gets the accreditation in March. Accreditation lasts for four years, after which the department must again resubmit itself for an independent audit to maintain its continued accreditation. During the years in between, the police department will continue to maintain its proof of compliance through regular and routine independent auditing.