Wednesday, July 28, 2010

SF Police Pilot Civilian Investigators

San Francisco Police Chief George Gascón has proposed a pioneering and controversial test program included in the city's new budget that will use civilian investigators to respond to nonviolent crimes like burglaries or car break-ins.

"This is really about re-engineering policing," Gascón told the San Francisco Chronicle. He started developing the idea about five years ago after learning about the use of civilian police in Great Britain. "It's a program that I believe will increasingly become the model around the country."

Gascón described the program to the Chronicle as victim friendly. Rather than making victims wait indefinitely, civilian investigators could schedule an appointment over the phone for a set time. Civilian staff wouldn't be called away for a crime in progress and would also be trained to offer crime prevention tips.

The program, modeled on one Gascón introduced while chief in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, Arizona, before being hired in San Francisco last year, comes as the chief expects 78 officers to retire this year, positions the city doesn't have the money to fill. Civilian investigators can be hired with salaries ranging from $47,000 to $57,000 a year, compared with base salaries ranging from $88,000 to $110,000 a year for police officers, according to the Chronicle.

Civilians are also cheaper to equip. In Mesa, the civilian investigators drive unmarked cars and carry handheld radios and pepper spray, rather than carrying guns, wearing bulletproof vests or driving outfitted patrol cars.

Not everyone agrees with the idea of civilian investigators. Gary Delagnes, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association told the Chronicle, "I am in no way in support of civilians going out and doing that," Delagnes said. "Let's say they go to a 3-day-old burglary, dust for fingerprints, take a report and all of a sudden they find out the guy who committed that burglary was a serial murderer. You're going to have a civilian who has to testify in court in a murder trial, and it's going to be a mess."

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