When you call a cop -- or meet one in a less favorable scenario -- you're probably not thinking about how he gets paid. But police officers are expensive for the local and state agencies that fund them, and in a time of "creative" cost-cutting by many jurisdictions, they're just too expensive. So police departments in places like Fort Lauderdale, Pembroke Pines, Coral Springs, Boca Raton, as well as the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office are moving to replace real police officers with civilians who require less training and less pay.
Some of the most visible roles traditionally served by cops are falling into the hands of civilians, according to
a report detailed in the Sun-Sentinel. The Broward Sheriff's Office is contractually prevented from replacing deputies with aides just to save money, but it's increasing its use of civilian-contractor crime-scene investigators -- the ones dusting for prints and doing the squat/squint popularized on the TV show CSI.
They're also doing things like responding to minor traffic crashes and rousting homeless people, sometimes shadowing actual police officers. The study, conducted by the International City/County Management Association, concludes that "experience dictates that response to these calls is a waste of valuable police resources."
Jim Leljedal with BSO told the Sun-Sentinel, "If someone wants to see a deputy, we will send one. But more and more now, I would just as soon go online and handle something on the computer, and I think that's the wave of the future."
Davie already takes crime reports and issues case numbers online, and Coral Springs is preparing to follow suit.
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Residents and a professor of police science interviewed by the paper expressed concern about the lack of real officers responding to potentially delicate situations. This is in addition to less-intensive volunteer programs like BSO's COP (Citizen Observer Patrol), in which volunteers wear uniforms and drive marked vehicles but don't require that pesky union contract.