Allhands: Phoenix Needs Civilian Police
Phoenix could learn a thing or two from Mesa.
Phoenix is struggling with response times as its police force shrinks, especially response times to low-priority crimes.
Mesa was in the same condition a few years ago. He got creative, using civilian agents to handle lower priority calls, leaving his sworn force to focus on more violent crimes. Response times have been reduced. Improved service. And Mesa created a model for other cities.
Here is an editorial from 2009 that summarizes the program. Phoenix should take notes:
A woman called 911 Friday night to report her car stolen from a Walmart parking lot east of Mesa.
But instead of sending a police officer with a badge and a gun, the dispatch contacted Sarah Erickson, a civilian investigator who wears neither. Erickson immediately called the woman for more information.
A few minutes later, the dispatcher canceled the call. The woman found her car where she had parked it.
It may not have been glorious detective work, but Erickson did a valuable service. She saved an officer from going there on a busy Friday night when several other calls were on hold.
That’s not all.
In the five months since Erickson and his 10 colleagues began responding to calls without an immediate threat to public safety, sworn officers said they have more time to follow leads and track down suspects.
Response times to lower priority calls, including robberies with no identified suspects, have improved significantly. Investigators contact most victims within 30 minutes of calling 911, compared to four to five hours before the program begins.
Customer service is a top priority. Instead of asking the victim to wait for an officer to arrive, and perhaps wait even longer if that officer is called, investigators schedule appointments to attend the scene when the more timely.
On average, investigators spend 30 minutes to over an hour at the scene, far more than officers typically have to spend. This gives them plenty of time to ask questions, console the victim and even offer crime prevention advice.
Investigators are also trained to collect DNA and fingerprints, which have identified suspects and led to arrests in theft and burglary cases that otherwise had no leads. This is especially important, given that people often steal to fund drug-using habits or violent crime rings.
In just five months, Mesa’s investigator program has proven that some calls can be handled just as well, or better, by civilian employees – who happen to be much cheaper to employ than sworn agents.
Considering that police departments make up a significant portion of most cities’ budgets and that many cities in the Southeast Valley are again facing budget shortfalls this year, it’s a pattern that other departments should seriously consider.