The Howard County Police Department has received national accreditation, becoming only the third department in the state with that status.

Howard joins a growing number of police departments that have met more than 900 standards covering such diverse areas as the use of deadly force, prisoner holding cells and school crossing guards.

The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, a private group based in Fairfax City, requires a thorough review of management, personnel policies, communications systems and criminal investigation procedures.

Striving to ensure that the department met the accreditation standards has already increased professionalism, according to Howard Police Chief Frederick W. Chaney. And getting accredited lowers insurance premiums and keeps the department apprised of the latest crime-fighting techniques and equipment, he said.

Accreditation will "improve the agency's efficiency and increase citizen and employee confidence in the department," he added.

The accreditation commission was started in 1979 by four national police associations to develop a national set of law enforcement standards.

The commission has accredited about 150 law enforcement agencies, including eight in the Washington area, according to police spokesman Gary Gardner. In Maryland, police departments in Baltimore County and Salisbury have been accredited, he said.

After a police department submits documentation on policies and procedures, an independent team of assessors conducts an inspection and files a report with the 21-member commission. Three times a year, the commission meets to decide on accreditation.

Accreditation lasts five years, after which the agency can seek recertification.