Public Release: 

Sam Houston State studies civilians in policing

Sam Houston State University

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IMAGE: This is William King of Sam Houston State University, College of Criminal Justice. view more

Credit: Harriet McHale/SHSU

HUNTSVILLE, TX (1/27/15) - In the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, many police agencies across the country began looking for effective ways to cut costs and maintain services in their departments.

In response to dwindling budgets, the Program on Police Consolidation and Shared Services (PCASS) was launched at Michigan State University (MSU) to provide independent information and objective research for police agencies to decide these tough issues. As part of that project, William King, Associate Dean for Research and Program Development at Sam Houston State University's College of Criminal Justice, investigated the use of civilian employees in police departments in collaboration with Jeremy M. Wilson of MSU.

As of 2008, one-third of full-time staff at police agencies in the U.S. were civilians. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, local police agencies employed 368,669 full time and 56,278 part-time civilian workers in 2008. Among the duties they handled were clerical; dispatch; first responder to non-violent calls; crime scene and forensic personnel; crime victim services; analyst, researchers and planners; community liaison and public information officers; and command staff and strategic leaders.

Here are some of the ways that law enforcement agencies are using civilian personnel.

  • Administrative and operational tasks, such as dispatch, clerical, accounting, custodial, technical services, and programming

  • Uniformed first responders for animal control, traffic control, parking regulation, cold case reports, or office-based work on crime reports or leads

  • Crime scene processing and forensic crime labs that require advanced training and academic degrees

  • Crime victim services, including victim advocates and victim service providers employed by departments

  • Analysts, researchers and planners for specialized work in statistical analysis, mapping, computer programs, budgeting, or crime analysis

  • Community liaisons and public information officers to serve local ethnic communities or to act as a liaison between police and the press

  • Command staff or strategic leaders who mainly lead administrative services for the department or have expertise in specialized area, such as homeland security

Civilians offer a number of benefits to police agencies, including lowering costs; freeing up officers for patrol or investigating cases; providing specialized skills or training; improving community relations; and allowing greater flexibility in personnel assignments. But hiring civilians also may raise concerns among police unions for taking away desk positions often reserved for sick or injured officers or among the rank and file over fears of compromising sensitive information, interfering with officer discretion, and disrupting operations.

For police agencies considering the addition of civil employees, King recommends talking to other agencies who have implemented the practice or to follow six guidelines for administering successful plans. Among these are assessing the types of positions being considered, determining the true costs and benefits for the agency, building support among key constituents in the department, developing a training plan for civilian employees, establishing performance assessments for civilian workers, and setting procedures for demoting, firing or handle grievance by or against civilian employees.

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The report by King and Wilson, "Police Consolidation: Integrating Civilian Staff into Police Agencies" is available on the PCASS web site at http://policeconsolidation.msu.edu/. The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Police Services.

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