Hamilton County - Staff size: 208
Blount County - Staff size: 177
Sullivan County - Staff size: 146
Washington County - Staff size: 110
Shelby County is currently in the reaccreditation process - Staff size: 946
The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office has been reaccredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, a process requiring proof of compliance with 484 standards.
The process provides a blueprint of best practices in nearly every conceivable aspect of law enforcement, from recruitment to use-of-force policies. It allows law enforcement agencies to use their resources efficiently while improving accountability and transparency, officials said.
Since the sheriff's office's initial accreditation in 2013, the department has seen fewer use-of-force cases, internal grievances have been halved and citizens have reported a greater sense of satisfaction with the agency.
"This is good for our agency, good for our people and good for the community," said G.A. Bennett, director of support services for the sheriff's office.
Hamilton County's is one of only five sheriff's offices in Tennessee that have met the requirements for certification. Only 4 percent of American law enforcement agencies hold the accreditation.
The accrediting agency "has actually brought together every division and working group within the sheriff's office so now everybody has a better picture of what everybody else is doing," Bennett said.
Hamilton County now is better equipped to collect and analyze mountains of real-time data to improve local law enforcement, he said. Before 2013, the sheriff's office didn't conduct a stringent traffic analysis, but it does now and as a result has identified several problem areas to focus on.
"With that analysis, we geo-mapped it and came up with basically seven hot spots for crashes in the unincorporated area of Hamilton County," Lt. Doug Wilson said. "With that, we also looked at our enforcement data, which was basically a shotgun approach."
Since those hotspots have been identified, deputies can use a more surgical approach to traffic enforcement, he said.
More efficient use of resources has become a necessity as agencies face pressure to do the same job with fewer people and less funding, even in matters as banal as record-keeping. Over the last several years the sheriff's office has eliminated redundancies, such as keeping duplicate records in multiple locations, by centralizing record storage.
"We streamlined a lot of reports simply because we were writing a lot of reports and we didn't necessarily have to be writing them every week or every month," said Miriam Monzo, accreditation manager for the sheriff's office.
Using better record-keeping policies also allows analysts to better understand and use the wealth of information at their fingertips to identify crime patterns and easily find case information.
"By looking at the data, it allows us to make improvements where we need to improve and use that same data to figure out what we need and what we don't need," Monzo said.
The standards also ensure the quality of information received from deputies in the field is more thorough.
Wilson pointed to use-of-force cases, saying deputies now report on aspects of an incident such as weather conditions or anything that might prove helpful to analysts later.
"In order for us to put these analyses together, we need the data, and the data comes from the people on the street," Monzo said. "So we are constantly communicating and training and saying, 'This is what we need in these reports.'"
Vince Dauro, the accrediting agency's regional program manager, was a point of contact for the sheriff's office through the process. He said all those little details should give confidence to residents, who can take pride in their local law enforcement.
"They've allowed themselves to not only meet international standards but to have outside observers come in and look at everything they do to verify that," he said. "It's risky, because they can find things that are wrong."
More information about accreditation of the sheriff's office can be found on its website, and residents are encouraged to give feedback on the agency's service online.
Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.