By following best practices in management, administration, operations and support services, Rhode Island College police is officially one of 30-plus accredited police agencies in Rhode Island.
When James Mendonca (pictured above, third from right) was appointed to be the chief of the Rhode Island College Police Department, as well as the college’s director of security and safety, in 2019, he received assurances from top RIC administrators that he could forge ahead with efforts to secure accreditation for the 21-member force.
“In my opinion, accreditation is important because it increases accountability and builds trust,” Mendonca says.
“By complying with accreditation standards, you’re ensuring that your agency is providing the highest level of quality services to the public,” adds Joseph Acampora (pictured above, third from left), a RIC Police captain who oversees professional standards, training and accreditation.
On June 30, a little more than two years after Mendonca’s arrival, RIC Police was awarded three years of accreditation from the Rhode Island Police Accreditation Commission (RIPAC), which upholds standards designed to reflect law enforcement best practices in management, administration, operations and support services.
Mendonca says RIC police has structured its 57 departmental policies, which include guidelines on everything from handcuffing procedures to use of force measures, to meet RIPAC standards. While more than 30-plus police agencies in Rhode Island are accredited by RIPAC, each agency follows its own playbook on how policies align with the standards.
Through a cloud-based paperless system, the only one in use in a police agency statewide, every RIC officer must sign off on the policies, which contain written directives that may require in-person training or assessment testing for which officers must attain minimum passing scores.
Mendonca says he met some initial apprehension from officers, but they have come to understand that the policies are also there to protect them.
“These are not ‘gotcha’ policies,” Acampora says. “When writing a policy, you want them to be documents that are easy for officers to comply with and fit with the goals and objectives of the agency.”
Mendonca and Acampora come to RIC from the Central Falls and Providence police departments respectively, which are accredited by RIPAC and the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA).
Christine Crocker, executive director of RIPAC, calls Mendonca and Acampora two of the leading figures statewide when it comes to accreditation. Mendonca is the only police chief in the state to lead two separate agencies through accreditation. In 2019 Acampora was named RIPAC’s Assessor of the Year for his contributions toward helping police agencies around the state earn accreditation.
“RIC is fortunate to have a police leadership team that’s progressive with a wealth of knowledge to keep moving forward and staying on top of any concerns on the campus,” Crocker says.
Acampora notes that since crime at RIC is relatively low, the police department’s top concern is building rapport among constituents on campus. This fall, police will connect with Residential Life office personnel on a program called “Behind Closed Doors,” which will offer scenario-based training on how to handle domestic, drug and intoxication issues.
“Residential Life representatives I spoke to a while ago want to know how we can establish more interaction besides when there is a law enforcement emergency going on,” Acampora says. “They want to know who we are.”
Mendonca agrees that his department must work to diminish the perception that police officers are unapproachable.
“The uniform alone is a barrier we have to deal with,” he says. “We have to wear them because we have to stand out, especially in case of emergencies. Some people may bring some level of mistrust from where they used to reside or previous interactions and we’re sensitive to that.
Mendonca is also sensitive to the notion that substance abuse triggered by mental health lapses is on the rise across the nation. He’s working with the Dean of Students office to create a memorandum of understanding that may lead to staffing a healthcare professional on duty after hours at RIC.
“There’s only so much training that gives an officer an ability to respond to such situations,” he says. “We aren’t psychologists or sociologists, so it would help to have healthcare personnel on staff at night when incidents like these are occurring.”
Other initiatives the police department is planning include more officers patrolling the campus on bikes and seeking a grant for a community resource dog to aid with trauma and anxiety. Within a year, the department also intends to pursue national accreditation through CALEA.
Meanwhile, Mendonca and Acampora say they won’t rest on their state accreditation laurels.
“Accreditation is a journey not a destination,” Acampora says, recalling what he heard Crocker, the RIPAC director, say once. “We will never get to the end. You can’t just sit back a while and relax.”