Facing tighter budgets, law enforcement agencies increasingly are turning to civilians to respond to some calls, says USA Today. That means people calling 911 to report a traffic accident, a burglarized home, or a stolen car may be greeted by a civilian instead of a gun-toting officer. “Most areas have at least thought about the alternative and are more open to it now because of the economy,” said Richard Brady, president of the Palo Alto, Ca.-based Matrix Consulting Group that has worked with more than 250 law enforcement agencies. The idea of using civilians, who require less training and are less expensive than sworn officers, to respond to minor police calls has been around since the late 1980s.
Sending civilians into the field for even routine calls that have little chance of becoming dangerous has been a contentious issue. Lynne Jantz of the Las Vegas police department said civilians working for the police don’t respond to accidents where alcohol or injuries are involved. Capt. Mark Strobridge of Orange County, Ca., said civilians will be deployed only during daylight hours and will not work in high-crime areas. Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, said civilians have worked well in some administrative office duties but there’s a “bright line” between what civilians can do and what sworn officers carrying guns can do. A simple traffic accident can escalate into road rage or worse, putting the civilian officer in danger. When any basic investigation is required, Pasco said, civilians are far more likely to make mistakes that can help accused criminals escape a conviction.