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John J. Cantú


Houston Cops Get ISO 9001-Certified

Largest law-enforcement agency in Texas takes on a standard more often seen in private industry

Published: Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - 12:20

The Property and Emergency Communications Divisions of the Houston Police Department (HPD) achieved certification to ISO 9001 in September 2011. The HPD pursued certification to this international standard from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in part because it establishes clear guidelines and goals against which the department can measure achievements. Being the largest police department in Texas and the fifth largest in the United States, the HPD determined that ISO 9001 quality management system (QMS) requirements provide the ideal business model to further the department’s commitment to continually improve its effectiveness in serving the needs of the community.

Implementing an ISO 9001-certified QMS in one police division was an ambitious undertaking; after all, ISO standards are more common in private industry and new to the law enforcement community. But the HPD decided to simultaneously pursue ISO certification in a second operational unit, the Property Division.

Challenges overcome

The Emergency Communications Division (ECD) is typically the first point of contact that the HPD has with the citizens of Houston. More than 1.2 million calls for service are dispatched by the ECD every year, which further include calls to utilize alternate response strategies. The process is designed so that 9-1-1 calls are initially received by a cadre of independent call takers who then distribute calls-for-service requests to the HPD or the fire department, accordingly.

Westside Console
A dispatcher manning a console of the Houston Police Department Emergency Communications Division

Becoming ISO 9001-certified brought an awareness of individual processes and a realization of some boundaries that existed between them. Process owners and users are sharing ideas for improvement that previously hadn’t been communicated or simply not realized. This includes an open exchange of ideas between the 9-1-1 call takers and dispatch operations. Essential supplier-customer relationships have been strengthened, and several long-standing and performance impacting boundaries have dissolved.

Across town, Property Division staff members faced a different challenge at the outset of the ISO-certification journey. There was a clear need for immediate change to the Property Division’s business model; however, June 2009 marked the opening of a state-of-the-art property and evidence storage facility in Houston. While the $13.2 million, LEED-certified building was a welcomed upgrade, the moving of hundreds of thousands of items while implementing a QMS called the timing of this endeavor into question.

Maintaining daily operations while transferring property from one facility to another was crucial. The property and evidence items were transferred, repackaged, relabeled with bar codes, and stored in the new building in addition to attending meetings and training sessions to implement the QMS requirements. “At times it felt like trying to change four tires on a vehicle traveling at 60 miles per hour,” say staff members. But the determined Property Division team succeeded, validating that this was indeed the perfect time for comprehensive renovation.

A cultural shift

Countless improvements were realized in both divisions during the course of the QMS implementation. As stakeholders became more engaged and empowered, several time-saving ideas became evident and cost-savings were revealed. Creating process maps allowed everyone to actually see the sequence and flow of tasks and to identify nonvalue-added activity. This visual approach also made it possible to ensure process interconnectivity, or lack thereof.

There is a burgeoning interest in continuous improvement. With quantified performance improvement in virtually every work process, the incentive to sustain mutually beneficial supplier-customer relationships is now established.

Registration audit

For the final assessment of the departments’ compliance to the QMS requirements, the HPD selected the management system registrar, National Quality Assurance (NQA), to conduct the third-party audit. All NQA representatives were extremely informative as the departments prepared for the two-stage audit. Lead auditor, Bill Scanlon, also provided valuable insight as we navigated through this process. His expertise and professionalism were extremely helpful.

The Property and Emergency Communications Divisions of the Houston Police Department achieved certification to ISO 9001.


About The Author

John J. Cantú

John J. Cantú is the administration manager of support operations for the Houston Police Department (HPD) and is the management representative for the HPD’s ISO 9001 certification. Cantú joined the HPD in 1995 and is a licensed instructor of the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Education (T.C.L.E.O.S.E.) program. Prior to his current appointment, he taught at the Houston Police Academy as a member of the Management Development Unit. While at the academy, Cantú also developed the T.C.L.E.O.S.E.-mandated Spanish language program that was adopted statewide. He also established the first computer-based language lab for law enforcement professionals.