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Criminal Justice Accreditation: The Role of Florida Sheriffs

May 10, 2021

By David Brand, Florida Sheriffs Association 

The accepted definition of a Professional involves a standard of training and competency, a regulating body or Fellowship, and a Code of Ethics or Conduct. Many professions, including law enforcement, have added accreditation to this definition.

In 1993, pursuant to §943.125, Florida Statutes, the Florida Sheriffs Association and the Florida Police Chiefs Association created a voluntary law enforcement accreditation program. The chiefs and sheriffs developed a list of standards, that were accepted by the Florida law enforcement community, leading directly to the creation of the Commission for Florida Accreditation.1 This initiative segued into the inception of the Florida Corrections Accreditation Commission in 1998 with most of the standards based primarily on the Florida Model Jail Standards and Florida statutes.

What is accreditation and what are the benefits?

Accreditation provides the sheriff’s office with an established set of professional standards. These may include: • Written directives that define authority, performance, and responsibilities • Analysis to make informed management decisions • A vehicle for community relations • An independent review by external subject matter experts Accreditation is beneficial because it increases the law enforcement agency’s ability to prevent and control criminal activity through an efficient and effective delivery of services. According to Executive Director Danielle Terrell, Commission for Florida Accreditation, it provides continuity for the community, direction for deputies, an outside review protocol, and internal peer reviews.2 Some benefits are not always achieved without the agency addressing some of the challenges. These may include organizational culture and overcoming misconceptions of the requirements.3

Accreditation Commissioners

While the commission staff is tasked with the day-to-day activities the commissioners provide direction and oversight. The fourteen commissioners on the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation are composed of five police chiefs, four sheriffs, one representative from state law enforcement, one county mayor, one city manager, one state inspector general, and one circuit judge. At the time of this writing, the four sheriffs are: Rick Staly, Flagler County; Michelle Cook, Clay County; Bill Leeper, Nassau County; and Billy Woods, Marion County.

The twelve Commissioners on the Florida Corrections Accreditation Commission are composed of four sheriffs, six jail administrators, a court services manager, and a probation services manager. At the time of this writing, the four sheriffs are: Paul Blackman, Highlands County; Peyton C. Grinnell, Lake County; Bob Johnson, Santa Rosa County; and Jared Miller, Wakulla County.

Thoughts and Reflections

Ms. Lawanna Ware, Nassau County Sheriff’s Office Accreditation Manager, and Sheriff Bill Leeper discuss an accreditation issue.

Sheriff Bill Leeper was appointed to the Commission early in 2021. He also has a seat on their Awards Committee. After a 35 year career with the Florida Highway Patrol, retiring as a Captain, he was elected sheriff of Nassau County. During his tenure with the FHP he had been involved in their initial accreditation process so he entered the Office of Sheriff with a background and thorough knowledge of the accreditation process. When he speaks to his constituents about the sheriff’s office he includes the value of being accredited and the importance of keeping agency policies standardized and in compliance with commission standards.4

Ms. Lawanna Ware, the accreditation manager, effectively maintains the program by using the Power DMS software provided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to all accredited agencies. She routinely trains the staff so the process of collecting proofs of compliance for each standard can be collected and filed on a regular schedule.5

Sheriff Michelle Cook and Sergeant Cody Whiddon

Sheriff Michelle Cook is a 29 year law enforcement veteran. Her career includes retiring as the third in command of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and afterwards chief of the Atlantic Beach Police Department. After being elected sheriff in 2020, given her previous experience as an accreditation assessor, she was appointed as one of the four sheriff commissioners. When speaking to her constituents and various community groups, she discusses the accreditation process and how proud she is that they are accredited adding that it contributes to the agency’s transparency and segues nicely with the philosophy of community policing. According to Sheriff Cook, accreditation additionally provides a housekeeping tool to keep the agency on track in achieving their overall agency objectives.6

Sergeant Cody Whiddon, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office Accreditation Manager, reported that they have been accredited for law enforcement since 1998, and for corrections since 2003. Sergeant Whiddon stresses that for the process to function smoothly both the accreditation team and he agency members should be educated about the commission goals on a continuum to ensure ownership.7

Dr. Steve Hougland, PhD, Florida Sheriffs Research Institute

Dr. Steve Hougland manages the Florida Sheriffs Association Research Institute. According to Dr. Hougland, accreditation encourages continual internal review to improve organization functions, promote best practices, and increase community confidence in law enforcement. Achieving accredited status demonstrates that an agency has met established standards of quality through extensive self-study and external review.8

The Future

With the Office of Sheriff in Florida being created in 1821, our sheriffs are celebrating their 200th anniversary. Professionalization, continuous research and training, and accreditation will contribute to the continuing evolution of the Office of Sheriff.


[2] Terrell, Danielle; Florida Department of Law Enforcement; Personal interview; March 29, 2021

[3] Walls, William; Florida Department of Law Enforcement; Personal interview; March 29, 2021

[4] Leeper, Sheriff Bill; Personal interview; April 14, 2021

[5] Ware, Lawanna; Nassau County Sheriff’s Office; Personal interview; April 14, 2021

[6] Cook, Sheriff Michelle; Personal interview; April 22, 2021

[7] Whiddon, Sergeant Cody; Personal interview; April 22, 2021

[8] Hougland, Dr. Steve; Personal interview; May 7, 2021