Civilians in Denver will soon be joining the police department to do everything from crime-scene analysis to evidence collection.
It's part of a growing national trend in which police departments are hiring civilians to do some jobs traditionally performed by sworn officers.
In addition to clerical positions, the Denver department will use civilians as fingerprint technicians, crime-scene analysts and lab technicians. While the move could engender resentment among some in the officer ranks, it's aimed at saving money while putting officers back out in the field.
"We've identified approximately 45 positions that sworn police officers are currently doing that civilians can do ... just as effectively," Chief Robert White said. "I'm pretty much of the philosophy if it doesn't require a badge and gun, with rare exceptions we should be looking for opportunities to have civilians to do that."
One of the main benefits of hiring civilians is cost, according to Professor Mary Dodge, director of the Masters of Criminal Justice Program at CU Denver. "Departments with tight budgets can save a lot of money. If you have a detective, who let's just say theoretically is making $90,000, you can hire two people to fill that position."
Just as importantly, White said, using civilians for non-dangerous positions frees up police officers to do what they do best -- "to really get them focusing out in those communities and put them in the best position where they can partner with the citizens in an effort to meet our long-term goal, which is the continuation of the prevention of crime."
As to whether civilians can do some jobs as well as seasoned detectives with years of experience, Dodge said it will depend on their training.
"Crime analysis is one of the most important positions that departments have now ... and that's what you get through a university," he said. "For example you have a student who is graduating who has crime-mapping skills and they can go in to a department and offer a great deal that a police officer may have no training in."
One of the disadvantages, though, can be resentment among officers on the force who feel they're being displaced. The key, Dodge said, is to create a culture of collaboration.
"For example in a crime lab they're looking at little pieces of evidence and so a civilian can do that," Dodge said. "But they may miss the whole picture. If you still have sworn police officers in your crime lab they can put the puzzle pieces together."
White envisions adding an additional 40 to 50 civilians to the Denver Police Department over the next couple of years, using them to make cold calls, take phone reports and even do field reports where an officer with a gun and badge is not necessary.
For example, White said, "police officers spend time taking traffic reports, tens of thousands of hours a year. That doesn't really require a police officer to be on the scene because there's not a crime in progress.
"Civilianization will actually help us put more sworn officers out on the street which will ultimately increase our response time (to dangerous crimes)," White said.
The Denver Police Department will begin hiring the first batch of civilians in the next few weeks.