The Baltimore Police Department plans to become one of the first law enforcement agencies in the nation to hire civilians to investigate low-level crimes, internal affairs complaints and cold cases.
Baltimore will set “a standard for staffing allocations in law enforcement agencies across the country,” which have struggled with hiring and retention, Mayor Brandon Scott said at a news conference Thursday at police headquarters. “This will free up our sworn detectives to better meet the needs of our residents by being out on our streets, deterring and solving crimes,” Scott said.
He and Police Commissioner Michael Harrison provided new details on plans to hire 35 civilian investigators this year, which is included in the mayor’s proposed $4 billion city budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
The mayor’s spending plan calls for $560.4 million for the police department, which would include funding for the new roles and would eliminate 30 vacant sworn officer positions. The plan must still be approved by the City Council and the Board of Estimates.
Other agencies have expressed interest in hiring more civilians to address shortages, but few others have focused on civilian investigators, Baltimore officials say. In Arizona, Phoenix police say hundreds have applied for a few dozen civilian jobs, according to reports.
Baltimore officials say they have identified an additional 135 positions for civilian hires for future years. The civilian positions are part of a broader plan to increase the number of civilians within the department as a way to address the increases in attrition and struggles with recruitment that most law enforcement agencies are grappling with.
Baltimore has 2,274 sworn officers and 519 civilian employees, police officials said. That’s below the budgeted 2,640 sworn officers and 615 civilian positions.
“This going to allow us to tap into previously unexplored but qualified personnel resources that can go through the hiring process in a more timely manner,” Scott said. ”We want to ensure our police resources are being used effectively, constitutionally and focused where we need them in Baltimore City.”
Nine civilians would be added to the department to staff the city’s Group Violence Reduction Strategy, which aims to focus resources on people most likely to be the victims of violence or perpetuate it.
Ten civilians would be moved to facilities and fleet maintenance duties, freeing up officers for patrol or other duties; 12 civilians will help staff the Telephone Reporting Unit, which receives non-serious police reports that do not require an officer’s response, restoring civilian positions cut from the 2021 budget, according to city officials.
Unlike sworn police officers, civilian officers would not carry guns, have arrest powers or require the same level of academy training.
The new civilian investigator positions would have a starting salary of $49,000 and still require background investigations, “but allows us to hire at a much faster pace,” Harrison said. They will receive basic training on policies, state and local law, and basic investigative tactics, Harrison said.
“It’s adding capacity” and not taking positions, he said. The new initiative “helps us with speed; it helps with frequency. We can get to cases faster, and we can take on more cases at the same time. We don’t want to reduce or compromise quality.”
Eric Melancon, chief of staff for the police commissioner, said the added investigators “will improve clearance rates, which will have a dramatic impact on reducing crime in the city.”
Currently, the department has a 48.9% clearance rate for homicides and 22.4% for nonfatal shootings, which adjust throughout the year as the number of cases increases.
Harrison said the plan is not about taking away jobs from sworn members of the department.
Police union leaders, however, expressed skepticism about the plan and said department leaders should focus on hiring more officers.
“The priorities of the BPD should be recruitment and retention of sworn personnel. New recruits and veteran officers will not come to the BPD or stay here until they make our officers’ salaries and working conditions competitive with surrounding jurisdictions,” said Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 President Sgt. Mike Mancuso.
“The reason for hiring civilian investigators is nothing more than the BPD’s acknowledgment that the BPD cannot hire or retain sworn officers,” he said.
Although the department did increase starting salaries to $55,000 to $60,000 a year, making Baltimore the highest-paying major law enforcement agency in the state for new recruits, Mancuso said the department must increase salaries “across the board” and provide retention bonuses.
According to the department, 70 sworn officers have left the department, and 26 were hired this year through this March.
Still, national law enforcement experts say recruiting and retention are a challenge across the country.
“The demand for workers is very high across all industries,” said Nola Joyce, a member of the monitoring team, which is helping Baltimore Police implement its consent decree. Unemployment is low, and there are more options now, she said.
“The spotlight, rightfully so, and the challenges of policing has caused some to think about it twice before getting into the profession,” Joyce said.
In Baltimore, applications are coming in, but people are not following through on the first step after applying, she said.
Joyce said members of the team were briefed several times about the department’s plans.
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“The consent decree is really about fair and just policing and ensuring there is sufficient personnel,” especially in the areas of community engagement and internal affairs, she said. “It’s more important for us that it is the quality of the work and the delivery of the service, instead of who.”
Like sworn officers, civilian employees accused of any misconduct would be investigated by the department’s Public Integrity Bureau or internal affairs unit, Melancon said.
“If an allegation of misconduct is sustained against a civilian ... the penalty matrix is reviewed by a Civilian Disciplinary Review Committee, made up of internal managers within BPD, to recommend discipline,” he said. They have the right to appeal that decision before a hearing officer, but there is no trial board process the way there is for sworn members, Melancon said.
Increasing the number of civilian employees has been a trend in policing for the past 20 years, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a D.C.-based policing think tank.
“It’s very expensive to hire a police officer. You have to train them,” Wexler said.
Additionally, departments are increasingly looking for jobs that don’t require a sworn officer with a badge and a gun, but also jobs that would benefit from professionals, such as those with backgrounds in forensics and digital technology.
“The general trend in policing is about identifying people from different backgrounds,” he said. “Some positions require a full-service law enforcement officers; in other positions, you look for people with different skills.”