Why Campus Law Enforcement Agencies Seek Accreditation: An Examination of Organizational Structure


Abstract Accreditation in campus law enforcement agencies is a symbol of professionalism in the industry. Accreditation requires a voluntary approach to implementing industry standards, policies, procedures, and best practices while being verified by an accreditation team. While prior research has examined various aspects of campus law enforcement, little attention has been paid to the implementation […]


Accreditation in campus law enforcement agencies is a symbol of professionalism in the industry. Accreditation requires a voluntary approach to implementing industry standards, policies, procedures, and best practices while being verified by an accreditation team. While prior research has examined various aspects of campus law enforcement, little attention has been paid to the implementation of accreditation. Using data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Survey of Campus Law Enforcement Agencies, National Center for Education Statistics, and Office of Postsecondary Education, we examined the influence of organizational structure, department characteristics, and campus characteristics on campus law enforcement agencies’ participation in professional accrediting associations within 261 campus law enforcement agencies serving campuses of 5,000+ students. When controlling for department and campus characteristics, the organizational structure was not a predictor of department membership in accreditation associations.

Keywords: Accreditation, Organizational Structure, Campus Law Enforcement, Professionalism



            Accreditation has become a symbol of quality and legitimacy. Accrediting bodies are used to validate and certify organizations, businesses, educational institutions, and professional entities, such as police departments. In 2019, there were 3,982 institutions of higher learning in the United States (NCES, n.d.). Most of these institutions of higher education are nationally or regionally accredited academically. While colleges and universities use a variety of accreditation processes to validate their educational programs, their campus law enforcement agencies, likewise, may subject themselves to quality assurance of accreditation. Historically, colleges and universities have been concerned with ensuring that their campus law enforcement agencies have legitimacy in the profession. When legitimacy issues arise, campus policing policy, procedure, and practice evolve to overcome such concerns.

The current climate surrounding policing is suspicion and accusations of a lack of professionalism among law enforcement personnel. This skepticism, coupled with various recurring grassroots movements that promote the defunding of police agencies, has renewed concerns regarding police professionalism. This increased awareness has resulted in ongoing discussions about the need for accreditation to establish and reinforce legitimacy, and the idea of implementing a nationally accepted set of standards and practices in law enforcement.

Organizational theories are frequently used to explain the behaviors of police departments. Accreditation is customarily used as an attribute of organizational behavior (Maguire, 1997). While these professional associations are frequently measured in organizational studies specific to campus law enforcement, e.g. (Basham, 2022; Hancock, 2016; Sloan, 1992), there needs to be more understanding of why campus police agencies participate in professional accreditation associations. This study examined the influence of the organizational structure, department, and campus characteristics on the accreditation membership within campus law enforcement agencies.

Literature Review

Professionalization in Policing

Police agencies are more efficient and effective when they operate with transparency. Accountability is achieved through the transformation of methods and standards (Basham, 2020b). The use of professional accreditation helps agencies to meet these goals and standards. Professionalization can typically be found under two realms in US policing (1) the encouragement for policing to be viewed as a profession and (2) enhancing the professional standard for law enforcement agencies and sworn (as well as non-sworn) personnel (Basham, 2020b). Each state oversees the regulation and certification of law enforcement agencies within their jurisdiction. However, simply meeting these standards does not ensure professionalism within the department. Professionalism comes from the leadership and culture within the agency and the respect earned by the community they serve. There is an overlap in the outcomes as it relates to these two movements for professionalization.

Along with professionalism, the need for legitimacy is essential in effective policing. For example, Jacobsen (2014) research found that although the student body on campus expects the police to protect them in the general context, they should do it without interference in their lives as university students. Moreover, students tended to delegitimize campus police authority and believed that, in some instances, that officers overreact to a simple behavioral issue (Jacobsen, 2014). Across the country, universities have become more vocal in allowing armed security operations to serve the needs of the university (Okeke & Abrahams, 2018). This is true especially in the wake of increased campus mass shootings and violent incidents. One avenue of improving policing professionalism and legitimacy is through accreditation.

Law Enforcement Accreditation

The history of law enforcement accreditation dates to the 1970s, when there was an identifiable need to enhance respectability for policing in the eyes of the public image. The key was to improve professionalism in every facet of law enforcement in America. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) explored accreditation and requested funding from the federal government for a national accreditation model. The creation and model for the accreditation system were initially designed by the National Sheriffs Association (NSA), the Police Executive Research Forum, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).

The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) was founded in 1979 as the first and only accrediting body for policing agencies (CALEA, 2023).  CALEA distinguishes itself as the “gold standard” for law enforcement accreditation. CALEA’s mission and purpose “is to improve the delivery of public safety services by maintaining a body of professional standards that support the administration of accreditation programs” (CALEA, 2023). The CALEA accreditation model is successful due to its (1) leadership in the agency, (2) services as a resource management tool, (3) establishment of best practices and vetted processes, (4) inclusion of a planning framework, and (5) encouragement of improvement and organizational growth (CALEA, 2023). Furthermore, this accreditation model focuses on the success of law enforcement personnel by ensuring proper training and equipment, providing appropriate operational decision-making, and supporting personnel practices in the agency. Lastly, CALEA promotes community relations through community awareness, organizational transparency, and information sharing through an open dialogue (CALEA, 2023).

Campus Law Enforcement Accreditation

Similar to CALEA, the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) is an accreditation body focused on the campus police system. Founded in 1958, IACLEA was developed by eleven college and university security administrators. Their initial objective was to discuss problems and job challenges among campus security directors. Over time, the mission of IACLEA was solidified to advance law enforcement functions for all institutions of higher learning by providing research, training, education, advocacy, and accreditation (IACLEA, n.d.).

Organizational Structure

Teodoro and Hughes (2012) explored the nexus of accreditation and organizational structure, finding that pursuing excellence and accreditation has become the management strategy of choice. Evidence points to the fact that accreditation is meant to help professionalize public administrators’ work and adopt policies and procedures akin to external organizations’ fusion of best practices. Using attitudinal data from police officers at six American law enforcement agencies, Teodoro and Hughes (2012) found two possible effects on organizational culture and accreditation. The first is the socialization of the employees, and the second is the signal to those employees and the agency’s priorities.

Hughes and Teodoro (2013) also assessed professionalism at the street level and the views about professional accreditation within the police agency. The authors agreed that accreditation could alter internal bureaucracy, which can lead to a sense of positive change in the organization, reshaping functional preferences and a strong sense of mission. Accreditation can lead the organization to having a more effective public delivery system to serve the public. Using data from municipal agencies, Hughes and Teodoro (2013) found that accreditation benefits a sense of mission for the first-line police officer that are patrolling the streets. However, there was a lack of evidence supporting any effect of using functional preference. The authors discovered that CALEA accreditation has a positive effect of the police officers’ attitudes toward the agency. Those officers working at CALEA-accredited agencies have the ability to handle diversity better and are held to a higher standard (Hughes & Teodoro, 2013).

Regarding department characteristics, previous research studies at university police agencies used the total sum of department employees (sworn and nonsworn) to represent the organizational size (Hancock, 2016; Paoline & Sloan, 2003). The organizational structure and police activities on campus have environmental differences from municipal police agencies. As such, there are identified varying influences that make policing unique for public and higher private education institutions (Bromley, 2013; Hancock, 2016; Paoline & Sloan, 2003). The level of urbanization also relates to the percentage of violent crime on university campuses (Fox & Hellman, 1985; Sloan, 1994). Previous research concerning police organizations has focused on variables that relate to the complexity of the agency and descriptive aspects. This is also referred to as task and scope (Maguire, 1997). Prior organizational theory studies have found that law enforcement agencies with an expansive scope of tasks are more likely to be involved in specialized units (Paoline & Sloan, 2003). One of the most common organizational variables in policing is department size. Previous research has linked agency size to officer complaints and reported incidents of misconduct, organizational support and fairness, financial distress, organizational commitment, and innovation (Eitle et al., 2014; Giblin & Nowacki, 2018; Hickman & Piquero, 2009; Johnson, 2015; Reynolds & Helfers, 2018). Organizational scholars have discovered that formalization is a factor with regard to written policies and procedures. Furthermore, functional differentiation is a strong indicator in the application of responsibilities and tasks in a police agency as well as occupational differentiation, which refers to the scope and responsibilities within the agency (Langworthy, 1986; Maguire, 1997). Lastly, there is vertical differentiation which references the number of hierarchy layers within the organization (Langworthy, 1986; Maguire, 1997).

The current study extends the research on campus policing and police organizational literature to the accreditation of campus law enforcement. The study examined the relationship between department accreditation membership and organizational structure in 261 campus law enforcement agencies on campuses of 5,000+ students.



The campus police agency data for this study came from the 2011-2012 Survey of Campus Law Enforcement Agencies (SCLEA), collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) (DOJ, 2015). Data from the Department of Education (DOE) and the National Center for Education Statistics were to measure campus characteristics and campus crime rates. Using Basham’s (2021) replication data, the data includes the SCLEA agency data, DOE on-campus crime rates, and NCES campus characteristic variables.

The data contained a sample of 861 campus law enforcement agencies. Any agency without data from the SCLEA, NCES, or DOE was removed (n=849). According to literature recommendations, the sample was restricted to include only agencies that use sworn, armed officers, which also patrol campus 24 hours a day, seven days a week (N=471). (See Hancock, 2016 and Paoline and Sloan, 2003). Finally, any case missing data from any variable in the model was removed (n=269). During the multivariable analysis, eight influential value cases were removed. The final sample size was 261 agencies or 57.2% of the agencies serving campuses with 5,000 or more students.


The foundation research of Langworthy (1986) and Maguire (1997) outline numerous organizational variables that contribute to the behavior of organizations. Over the years, the SCLEA in particular has been used to measure the organizational influence on campus law enforcement agencies (Paoline & Sloan, 2003), community policing (Basham, 2022; Hancock, 2016), and emergency preparedness (Basham, 2020a). Based on these prior organizational works, the following variables were selected.

Professional Accreditation Association

The dependent variable in the study was professional accreditation association. Using questions from the SCLEA that inquire about agency status with professional accreditation association, the variable measures whether the agency participates in a professional accreditation association. The SCLEA asked the following question: “What was your agency’s accreditation status with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) and the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) as of September 30, 2011?” Agencies that responded None received a score of “0.” Those that indicated that they had participated in any form of accreditation for either organization (CALEA or IACLEA) the variable was coded “1” for Yes.

Functional differentiation measures the specialization in the organization (Langworthy, 1986; Maguire, 1997). Using a list of 24 questions in the SCLEA regarding specialized full-time units within the department, an index (0-24) was created. Finally, vertical differentiation refers to the hierarchy within the organization (Maguire, 1997). The variable was created by computing the difference in salaries between the lowest paid sworn officer and the chief.

Department Characteristics

To account for the influence of the agency, a variety of department characteristics were measured. Department size represents the full-time and part-time employees, including sworn and non-sworn personnel within the agency. Task scope represents the typical responsibilities and duties of the law enforcement agency (Maguire, 1997; Paoline & Sloan, 2003). The SCLEA contains 30 questions inquiring about the daily responsibilities of the department, including items such as patrol function, parking enforcement, investigations, and building access control. An index (0-30) of these items was created to measure the task scope of the organization. Third, the education requirements of the department were considered. A dichotomous variable was created, agency requirements of two years or more of college education were coded “1” and requirements of less than two years of college were coded “0.”

Campus Characteristics

To account for the influence of the campus environment, a variety of campus characteristics were measured. First, the public/private control identifies whether the educational institution is designated a public or private entity. Public campuses were coded “0” and private were coded “1.” Organizational and campus decisions can be influenced by their geographical location. Using the U.S. Census Bureau region classification, four regional categorical variables will be created: East, South, Mid-Western, and West.

Using 2010 Clery reported data for on-campus crime, an index of violent crime (murder, negligent manslaughter, aggravated assault, and robbery), and an index of property crime (arson, burglary, and motor vehicle theft) were created and converted into a rate per 1,000 students. The size of the university was measured using the Fall 2010 campus enrollment. Finally, to account for the size of the community in which the campus was located, an urbanization variable was included. Using the US Census Bureau’s urban-centric codes the NCES categories were organized into four main categories: Urban, suburban, rural, and town.


Univariate Results

Table 1 provides the univariate descriptive statistics for the variables in this research study. For the dependent variable, professional accreditation association, the majority (74.3%, n=194) of agencies did not participate in professional accreditation associations, either the CALEA or the IACLEA. Whereas 26.7% (n=67) agencies did participate in some version of professional accreditation with CALEA or IACLEA. Of the responding agencies, 85.1% (n=222) require a 2-year degree or less for new hires, 14.9% (n=39) agencies require more than two years of a college education. The majority (91.2%, n=238) of campus law enforcement agencies were serving public institutions, whereas 23 of the agencies (8.8%) in the study were operating on private campuses. Urbanization categories were as follows, the city had a frequency (n=142, 54.4%), the suburb had a frequency (n=49, 18.8%), the town(s) had a frequency (n=60, 12.0%), and the rural areas had a frequency (n=10, 3.8%). Agencies most frequently reported serving campuses in the South (38.3%, n=100), followed by the Mid-Western region with 62 agencies (23.8%), the East region (n=54, 20.7%) and the West region had a frequency (n=45, 17.2%).

Table 1

Categorical Descriptive Statistics N=261

Variable n %
Professional Accreditation Association
   No Professional Association 194 74.3%
   Some version of Professional Association 67 25.7%
Higher Education
   Less than 2-year college 222 85.1%
   2-year or more college 39           14.9%
Public / Private Control
   Public 238 91.2%
   Private 23 8.8%
Urbanization Categories
     City 142 54.4%
     Suburb 49 18.8%
     Town 60 23.0%
     Rural 10 3.8%
     Northeast 54 20.7%
     South 100 38.3%
     Midwest 62 23.8%
     West 45 17.2%

Note.      a Dummy variable: affiliation coded “1” and no affiliation coded “0.”

b Dummy variable: less than 2-year college coded “0” and 2-yr+ coded “1.”

c Dummy variable: public institution coded “0” and private institution coded “1.”

d Urbanization consists of 3 dummy variables; City is the reference category.

e Region consists of 3 dummy variables; Midwest is the reference category.


Table 2 provides the continuous descriptive statistics. Functional differentiation fell between 0 and 18 on the index, with a mean value of 2.7 and a standard deviation of 3.86839. For vertical differentiation, responding agencies fell between 0.20 and 4.48, with a mean value of 1.48 and a standard deviation of 0.65. With formalization, responding agencies fell between 5 and 19, with a mean of 16.60 and a standard deviation of 2.864. Agency task scope varied from 9 to 30, with a mean of 19.04 and a standard deviation of 3.76. Agency size ranged from 8 to 290, employees, with a mean of 63.45 and a standard deviation of 47.31. Total enrollment ranged from 5,160 to 50,064 students, with a mean of 17,540 students and a standard deviation of 11012.67. Universities reported an average violent crime rate of 0.21 violent crimes per 1,000 students, with a range of 0.00 to 1.06 and a standard deviation of 0.215, and a mean property crime rate of 1.57 (SD=1.199, R=0.00 to 5.88).

Table 2

Continuous Descriptive Statistics N=261

Variable Mean SD Range
Functional differentiation  2.74  3.868 0-18
Vertical differentiation  1.48  0.651 0.2-4.48
Formalization 16.60  2.864 5-19
Task scope 19.04 3.700 9-30
Agency Size 63.45 47.310 8-290
Enrollment 17540.27  11012.673 5160-56064
Violent crime rate  0.21  0.215 0-1.06
Property crime rate  1.57  1.199 0-5.88

Note. a Rate per 1,000 students.

Bivariate Results

Table 3 represents the bivariate statistics. Independent t-tests were conducted to evaluate whether agency participation in professional accreditation associations differed significantly as a function of the three independent variables: functional differentiation, vertical differentiation, and formalization. Of the three, function differentiation (t (95.708= 2.57, p=.012, d=0.409) and vertical differentiation (t (259) = -2.07, p=.0402, d=0.293) were significantly associated with professional accreditation participation. An examination of the group means indicates that agencies that participated in some version of professional accreditation association (M=3.896, SD = 4.51, N=67) had significantly higher functional differentiations than agencies with no professional association affiliation (M=2.34, SD = 3.55, N=194). Likewise, these agencies had a significantly higher vertical differentiation (M=1.43, SD = 0.59, N=194). There was no significant difference in the means of formalization.

Table 3


Professional Accreditation No Professional Association Some version of Professional Association t (259) p Cohen’s d
Functional Differentiation 2.34 3.55 3.90 .55 -2.57 .012 -0.409
Vertical Differentiation 1.43 .60 1.62 .79 -2.07 .040 -0.293
Formalization 16.43 2.90 17.09 2.73 -1.623 .106 -0.230


Multivariable Analysis

The analysis addressed the research question: What is the relationship between organizational structure and accreditation within campus law enforcement agencies? Two binary logistic regressions were conducted. The first model represents the influence of only the organizational factors on campus police agencies’ participation in professional accreditation associations. Then the department and campus control variables were introduced in Model 2. See Table 4.

When assessing only the organizational structure, of the three independent variables, only functional differentiation presented a significant relationship. Within campus law enforcement agencies, for every 1-unit increase in functional differentiation, there is a 1.709 increase in the odds of participating in professional accreditation associations (b=0.076, SE=0.035, p=0.031). However, once the department and campus variables were introduced, functional differentiation was no longer significant. Of the campus characteristics, two were significant predictors of accreditation membership, enrollment, and town urbanization. For each increase in enrollment by one student, there is a 1.000 increase in the odds in agency participation in an accreditation association (b=0.000, SE=0.000, p=0.012). Compared to agencies operating on campuses in cities, those in towns have lower odds of participating in a professional accreditation association (b=1.227, SE=0.552, p=0.026). Other campus characteristics such as crime rate, campus control, or regional locations were not significant predictors of campus law enforcement agency professional association membership. Considering the department characteristics, agency size, task scope, or required education, none were significant predictors of agency participation in accreditation activities.

Table 4

Binary Logistic Regression (N=261)

Model 1 Model 2
Variable b SE Exp(b) b SE Exp(b)
Functional Differentiation 0.076* 0.035 1.079 0.006 0.043 1.006
Vertical Differentiation 0.339 0.19 1.403 -0.092 0.247 0.913
Formalization 0.063 0.059 1.065 0.032 0.064 1.033
Total Agency Employees 0.012 0.003 1.004
Task Scope 0.003 0.041 1.037
2+ yrs. college education -0.846 0.533 0.429
Enrollment 0.000* 0.000 1.000
Violent Crime Rate 0.155 0.799 1.168
Property Crime Rate -0.021 0.146 0.979
Public/Private Control -0.555 0.607 0.574
Urbanization: Suburb 0.339 0.435 1.404
Urbanization: Town -1.227* 0.552 0.293
Urbanization: Rural -1.067 1.114 0.344
Region: Northeast 0.892 0.553 2.439
Region: South 0.808 0.459 2.244
Region: West -0.370 0.572 0.691
Constant -2.871** 1.048 0.057 -3.645* 1.440 0.026

Note. * p < 0.05, ** p < 0.01, *** p < 0.001


Discussion & Conclusion

Given the limited research on campus police accreditation, this study aimed to analyze the influence of department organizational structure on participation in accreditation associations in campus law enforcement while controlling for both department and campus characteristics. These outcomes demonstrate that the organizational structure does not predict campus law enforcement agency membership in accreditation associations. The outcome of Model 1 was that the more specialized the agency, the more likely it was to have affiliation with professional accreditation associations. While the inclusion of department and campus characteristics demonstrate that organizational structure is not influential in the decision to participate in accreditation associations, we did find that campus law enforcement agencies serving schools in cities (compared to towns) and with larger student enrollments are more likely to pursue accreditation memberships.

Urbanization impacts administrative decision-making because the level of urbanization relates to the percentage of violent crime on university campuses and influences the responsibilities and architecture of municipal police (Crank & Wells, 1991; Fox & Hellman, 1985; Sloan, 1994). A real-world example in the context of this study would be the growth of a campus and the challenges of an increase in its population, related to affordable housing, inadequate infrastructure, crime, and poverty.

It is important to note the limitations of the study. These outcomes are limited by the scope of the survey. Utilizing secondary data that is gathered for various purposes limits the data’s applicability. Future research should consider using surveys tailored to the purpose of the study. Additionally, implementing a qualitative design would permit inquiry into the decision-making process of campus law enforcement administrators to the benefits and motivations for pursuing accreditation. Finally, considering the age of the survey, conducting subsequent studies with more recent data would provide insight to a more contemporary utilization of campus law enforcement accreditation. Nevertheless, these findings contribute to a foundational understanding of the role of organizational structure in campus law enforcement.



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Jamie Gauthier, Ph.D., MSCJ, MBA/Public Admin, CHPP, is a 23-year law enforcement professional working for a police agency and prosecutor’s office in the state of California. Dr. Gauthier worked in senior security management in the private sector for nearly a decade prior to his law enforcement career. Dr. Gauthier is a professor of criminal justice and homeland security in the College of Safety and Emergency Services at Columbia Southern University and is the Program Director for Homeland Security at Waldorf University where he teaches criminal justice and homeland security. Dr. Gauthier is a Part-Time Lecturer in Security and Intelligence Studies at Northeastern University. Dr. Gauthier was part of the original team at Henley-Putnam University, prior to obtaining their national accreditation (DEAC), and when they were originally called California University of Protection and Intelligence Management, holding the position of Adjunct Professor of Strategic Security and Assistant Dean of Student Services. Dr. Gauthier is a Certified Homeland Protection Professional (CHPP) through the National Sheriff’s Association Institute for Homeland Security. Dr. Gauthier earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Human Resource Management and Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in Public Administration from Columbia Southern University, a Master of Science in Criminal Justice (MSCJ) with a concentration in Leadership from Northeastern University, and Ph.D. in Criminal Justice and Homeland Security from Liberty University, graduating with high distinction.

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Sherah L. Basham, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Social, Cultural, and Justice Studies at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She holds a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice and has over 20 years of experience in the criminal justice field in the areas of investigations, campus security, and higher education. Her research interests include policing, campus law enforcement, and emergency preparedness. Her most recent research appears in Policing: An International Journal, the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, and the Journal of Criminal Justice Education.

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