Bob Dylan wrote The Times They Are a-Changin’ back in 1964 and the inevitable trend still continues today. Fast-forward to the troubling times of 2015 and community policing policies are being quickly revised to meet the new and more dangerous threat of domestic and international terrorism.
Entire police departments like the 34,000 uniformed men and women of the NYPD are being completely retrained on the tactics used to answer calls like “shots fired.”
The value of civilians is now being recognized as a viable answer to provide immediate response to shooting incidents and other violent crimes. In the past, law enforcement was loathe to use civilians in any field capacity, but times have changed and police now recognize that they don’t have the manpower to be everywhere at the same time.
In San Francisco, former police chief George Gascón’s re-engineering plan came as cities like Oakland were laying off dozens of officers and stopping active investigations of the types of crimes San Francisco’s new civilian investigators would handle.
The program was modeled on one Gascón previously introduced while chief in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, Ariz.
Civilians it turns out are cheaper to equip. In Mesa, the civilian investigators drive unmarked cars and carry handheld radios and pepper spray, not guns, bulletproof vests or outfitted patrol cars.
“Their job is to basically handle all of those calls that do not require someone with a gun,” he said.
Gascón, though, said his plan is not focused on cutting costs. “This is much broader than simply a response to bad economic times today,” Gascón said. “This is about looking at what policing is going to look like in the next 30, 40, 50 years.”
Here at home in Los Angeles, back in October 2014, Councilman Mike Bonin worried the lack of civilian workers in the Police Department were like a “giant vacuum that’s taking officers off patrol.”
Patrol officers spend about 40% of their time doing administrative work, including filing reports and making court appearances, according to a report reviewed by the city council committee. The committee agreed that they want to see that percentage reduced and will start looking for room in the budget to fill the civilian positions gone vacant.
Councilman Mitch Englander said the shortage is a problem even though the city is experiencing historically low crime rates.
“The second we start seeing some upticks, we’re in trouble,” he said.
Englander emphasized that hiring more civilian workers would merely be “restoring support staff.” He compared such workers to a NASCAR pit crew. “Right now we’ve got the race car driver stopping to change his own tires,” he said.
Well, in 2015 the “uptick” arrived. Crime rates have soared this year with little or no response from the City’s leadership. Someone must do something. Maybe we can.
In today’s world civilians cannot simply sit back and rely on someone else to provide their security. More paid and volunteer civilian participation will be required in the future. It’s going to take a lot more civilian involvement to keep us all safe and secure in these times that are still a-changin’.
My apologies to the great Bob Dylan.