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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Civilians have long had a role in law enforcement, mostly in dispatch or clerical positions. Today, they are proving their value in a growing number of other jobs: planning, public information, property management, and administrative positions, to name a few.
They are also taking on some traditional police roles, such as nonhazardous patrol duties, crime scene investigations (CSI), or other forensic jobs, allowing departments to free sworn officers for other work or to fill positions for which it is proving difficult to recruit officers.
The growing focus on community policing and use of technology has led to the hiring of civilians in new law enforcement roles as well—victim advocates, mental health consultants, and data analysts, for instance.
According to Chris Snyder, Public Information Officer for the Elkhart (Indiana) Police Department, “In the past, we filled all traditional sworn positions with police officers. And in some jurisdictions, even the dispatchers are still officers. But that was old-school thinking. As times change, we need to look outside the box and figure out how to do more with our sworn trained officers and fill other roles with civilians. Crime analysts, for instance, are positions we can train a civilian for. Evidence Tech is another area where they provide value. We can teach somebody to extract info from our records systems, for instance. If you’re already using civilians in front desk positions or for some field work, it’s a short step to integrating them into your CSI or other programs,” he adds.
According to Kurt Frisz, Chief of the St. Charles County (Missouri) Police Department (SCCPD), his department has six civilians in their CSI unit.
“Hiring civilians really works for us because it frees up officers for other duties,” says Chief Frisz. “Though we do sometimes have an officer for security purposes at the scene, and the investigators are supervised by a sergeant.”
Of the SCCPD’s 181 positions, 38 are filled by nonsworn personnel, and they are hiring three more for their records department, too. Says Chief Frisz, “In addition to records, they do CCW permitting, register sex offenders, and other jobs, so it is more than just filing police reports.”
“Some of our civilians are retired cops, too—our firearms examiner, for instance. And our cybercrime unit has a civilian investigator who is a former detective.”Public Information Officers, who handle media, organize events, and provide information to the public, are often civilians, as are Asset Protection Managers and Property/Evidence Managers.
And in New Jersey, the Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) is headed by a civilian, Police Director Tawana Moody, who took over all police department operations after the department’s chief retired in 2021.
Though not a sworn officer, Director Moody has worked in the department for more than 16 years, starting as a clerk and working her way up through management positions. She now supervises approximately 700 civilian employees throughout the Jersey City Public Safety Department while also overseeing all the administrative needs for the 950 sworn officers of the JCPD.
According to Mayor Steve Fulop, appointing a civilian to oversee the department will strengthen police/community relations, enhance accountability, and ultimately lead to better results for residents and officers.
Today’s managers recognize that civilian employees have skills that complement those of law enforcement officers and that employing them allows police officers to focus on the things that require sworn officers’ skills.
Says Officer Snyder, “We’re going to see more of this in the future as more law enforcement positions are civilianized and jobs that had been filled with officers open up.
“It will put more cops on street and reduce call volume. The community will be safer if more patrol officers are out there. It’s a great idea and time to move forward.”
Faye C. Elkins
Sr. Technical Writer
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