Answering the call with a non-traditional response

Using professional staff and community partners to facilitate police reform


This article is based on research conducted as a part of the CA POST Command College. It is a futures study of a particular emerging issue of relevance to law enforcement. Its purpose is not to predict the future; rather, to project a variety of possible scenarios useful for planning and action in anticipation of the emerging landscape facing policing organizations.

The article was created using the futures forecasting process of Command College and its outcomes. Managing the future means influencing it – creating, constraining and adapting to emerging trends and events in a way that optimizes the opportunities and minimizes the threats of relevance to the profession.

By Captain Glen Brock

Public confidence in law enforcement hit a nearly 30-year low in 2020 when a Gallup poll showed that only 48% of Americans expressed confidence in law enforcement as an institution. [1] A similar National poll in 2020 reflected that 94% of respondents say policing needs at least minor changes. [2]

It is clear our communities are looking for something different from their law enforcement organizations. They are demanding that the police look for new ways to adapt to society’s changing expectations. The public wants a more diversified response, one that continues to offer the safety of armed personnel during emergencies, while using trained non-sworn professionals to respond to those service requests that required more time or training to resolve. This raises the question, “How can law enforcement use civilians to meet community expectations in the future?”

Lynnwood police Officer Denis Molloy, left, stands with Heather Turner, right, a mental health clinician from the behavioral health nonprofit Compass Health, outside a hygiene center for people experiencing homelessness, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, in Lynnwood, Wash.
Lynnwood police Officer Denis Molloy, left, stands with Heather Turner, right, a mental health clinician from the behavioral health nonprofit Compass Health, outside a hygiene center for people experiencing homelessness, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, in Lynnwood, Wash. ((AP Photo/Gene Johnson)

Meeting community needs with professional staff

The idea of incorporating non-sworn professional staff and other non-governmental organizations into law enforcement responses is not new. Professional staff members already play essential roles in law enforcement agencies around the world. They are running communication and records centers, handling property and evidence rooms, and working as community liaisons among other critical tasks.  Moving forward, however, agencies must look for more ways to integrate civilians into their operations as first responders. This includes utilizing professional staff and other non-governmental organizations as primary responders to a wider variety of calls as an alternative to sending sworn officers.

Not every call for service requires an armed response. There are some studies that suggest as much as 67.5% of 911 calls could be handled by non-sworn first responders or other community alternatives. [3] By fully developing response models that incorporate the use of non-sworn professional staff or non-governmental organizations, agencies can reduce response times to emergencies by keeping sworn staff available to respond, [4] realize cost savings related to personnel expenses, [5] accelerate efforts to diversify workforces, [4] and reduce use of force incidents. [6]

Changing our response to reduce the use of force

After months of public demonstrations in 2020, members of the public have demanded agencies find ways to reduce use of force incidents. This has put a renewed focus on the way law enforcement responds to calls involving people experiencing a mental health crisis. One of the more popular means of using professional staff and non-governmental organizations as first responders is the Crisis Intervention Team concept.

There are two primary crisis intervention team models in use throughout the United States today. The first uses non-police personnel from third-party organizations. The other popular option is a co-responder model that pairs a sworn employee with a mental health professional. One of the oldest crisis intervention programs can be found in Eugene, Oregon. Here civilian responders from CAHOOTS have handled mental health-related calls since 1989. In 2019 they responded to over 24,000 service requests, only needing police assistance less than 1% of the time. [3]

Although there is little research available on the effect third party responders have on reducing use of force incidents, the sheer volume of calls handled by the CAHOOTS team would suggest a reduction based on exposure alone. The effects on use of force involving the co-responder model have generated more research and are beginning to show results. A 2020 study out of Quebec, Canada reported the crisis intervention team co-responder model resulted in force being used in only 4.2% of their calls while regular patrol units used force 12.1% of the time during similar incidents. [7]

Clearly, considering alternatives to sworn response can alter the dynamics of one of the most hotly contested issues today.

[Police1 resource: 8 things to know before establishing a mobile crisis intervention co-responder program]

Increasing budget flexibility

With increases in public safety spending over the past 40 years, [8] building alternate response models for calls involving mental health crises and homeless issues can also assist with budgets. Those agencies that have successfully integrated non-sworn professional staff into their organizations have realized positive economic impacts through cost savings. These savings come from reduced salaries, training and equipment costs.

A law enforcement agency in Kentucky reported that although the pay for professional staff was similar to sworn officers, there was a $60,000 savings in training non-sworn staff. [9] A study commissioned by the United States Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Section found that civilian personnel earn up to 23% less than their sworn counterparts. [4] Public Safety Canada has confirmed that estimate in a 2017 report which concluded law enforcement civilian staff costs only 67% of a sworn law enforcement officer. [5]

Enhancing diversity

Although diversity in law enforcement is improving, there is still work to be done. As of 2019, 67% of police officers reported their ethnicity as white (non-Hispanic), while 12.4% documented their race as Black. These are the only two groups where their representation in law enforcement outperformed their total percentage of the United States population (61.3% and 11.9%, respectively). [10] Even with focused hiring efforts, however, women, Hispanics, and Asians are still underrepresented. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission points to several barriers that minorities encounter when attempting to join law enforcement agencies. These include a complex and lengthy testing process, a lack of knowledge regarding job opportunities and a scarcity of role models. [11]

Using more non-sworn professional staff presents additional opportunities to diversify law enforcement agencies. The job of a sworn police officer does not appeal to everyone. Applicants for professional staff roles may not be subject to the same physical or background requirements that would prevent some from applying for sworn positions. Furthermore, the jobs performed may be more appealing as the risk to their safety would be minimized. A more diverse workforce in law enforcement that better represents the community they serve is essential to develop community trust. [11]

[Police1 resource: Building a diverse workforce in law enforcement]

A call for action: police practices must change

In some communities nationally, like Austin and Los Angeles, funding has been diverted from the police to address social issues. Law enforcement organizations also express a willingness to “defund” if viable solutions replace the current response models. [12] The environment in which law enforcement professionals operate is ready for significant change. Agencies and the communities they serve are searching for alternatives to the traditional methods of delivering public safety services.

Governing bodies on the local, state and federal levels are beginning to fill the void between the desire for change expressed by their constituents and the seemingly slow and measured response of professional law enforcement organizations. [13] These demands are surfacing as attempts at decriminalization and defunding efforts. As a result, there has been a concerted effort to legislate solutions, [14] yet they often bring unintended consequences. These unintended consequences are illustrated in the impacts of California Prop 47 enacted in 2014. While voters passed Prop 47 to reallocate funds away from incarceration and into social service, the crimes affected by the proposition increased. [15]

The lack of significant change has resulted in civil unrest, billions of dollars in damage and economic loss, and undermined the trust that is so essentially necessary between law enforcement and the communities they serve. An extreme example of this erosion of trust can be found in Minneapolis where 44% of voters recently cast their ballots to eliminate their police department altogether. Although the initiative to disband a city police department was unsuccessful, this vote was a clear call for action, and law enforcement administrators must pay attention.

Recommendations

A comprehensive review of how law enforcement services are traditionally delivered is overdue. Line-level sworn staff have become the immediate answer to most social issues and this must change. While public demand and expectations have increased exponentially, the training and support for new law enforcement tasks have been slow to materialize. Any review should include how the use of non-sworn personnel and other non-governmental organizations can make law enforcement agencies more effective.

Recommendation 1

One of the challenges to developing a modern non-sworn response model is law enforcement leaders have little research and data to guide their decisions. State authorities like Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) should conduct their own research on the expanded use of non-sworn professional staff along with other non-governmental organizations. This research should evaluate the various programs in use today, like the co-responder and private alternatives, to determine their effectiveness, identify unfulfilled needs, and make recommendations on best practices.

To do this, POST must become the repository for information related to alternative response models. They must establish measurable reporting criteria that best assess program effectiveness and mandate agencies share this data. Much like the programs that exist for sworn officers, POST should develop an expanded certification process to include different components of civilians as first responder models. This would offer validity to the programs and build public and agency confidence.

Recommendation 2

POST should develop training programs for the expanded use of civilians as first responders. This includes training specifically designed for people who respond to non-emergency calls and focus on issues involving crisis intervention, dispute resolution, juvenile issues, counseling, and basic investigative skills. These training courses should not only be open to law enforcement agency employees, but also to other non-governmental organizations that work in support of law enforcement agencies.

Recommendation 3

A majority of calls that sworn law enforcement employees respond to are not emergencies. [3] Non-sworn civilian employees or non-governmental organizations should be primary responders to these non-emergency or non-criminal calls for service. These calls would include incidents involving people experiencing a mental health crisis, homelessness, past crimes, or those involving non-violent disputes.

To do this, agencies should either create professional staff roles within their organizations, or work to develop strategic partnerships with community partners who would respond to these non-emergency calls for service. A response model leveraging professional staff members or non-governmental organizations as primary responders creates efficiency and allows agencies to use their sworn personnel more appropriately.

Conclusion

Winston Churchill famously said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” The time for law enforcement to listen to those they serve is now. Civilians are underutilized in most law enforcement agencies. Not having an alternative to a sworn response or failing to send the most appropriate resource can waste time and have tragic consequences.  It contributes to the erosion of public trust and negative impacts on the services available to the community.

The public expectation of their law enforcement agencies has become more complex. To better accommodate the needs of our communities, law enforcement organizations must become innovative and modify how they utilize their personnel. By broadening the use of professional staff and other non-governmental organizations, agencies can meet the emerging desires and offer more efficient and effective service levels. State governments must take control of this process by developing best practices and training programs to support the development of these modified response models. Doing this will help law enforcement agencies adapt to provide programs best suited for their communities.

References

1. Gallup. (2022). Confidence in Institutions

2. Crabtree S. (2020, July 22). Most Americans say policing needs 'major changes.' 

3. Irwin A, Pearl B. (2020, October 28). The Community Responder Model: How Cities Can Send the Right Responder to Every 911 Call.Center for American Progress.

4. King WR, Wilson JM. (2014). Integrating Civilian Staff Into Police Agencies. United States Department of Justice.

5. Kiedrowski J, Melchers R, Ruddell T, Petrunik M. (2017). The Civilianization of Police in Canada. Ottawa: Public Safety Canada.

6. IACP; University of Cincinnati. (2020). Assessing the Impact of Co-Responder Team Programs: A Review of Research.

7. Blais E, Landry M, Elazhary N, Carrier S, Savard AM. (2020). Assessing the capability of a co-responding police mental health program to connect emotional disturbed people with community resources and decrease police use-of-force. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 41-65.

8. Badger E, Bui Q. (2020, June 12). Cities Grew Safer. Police Budgets Kept Growing. The New York Times.

9. Ward M. (2019, July 23). Everyone Benefits When Police Departments Hire Social Workers. Just Solutions.

10. Data USA. (2020). Data USA: Police Officers.

11. U.S. Department of Justice Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (2016, October). Advancing Diversity in Law Enforcement.

12. Vermeer M, Woods D, Jackson B. (2020, August). Would Law Enforcement Leaders Support Defunding the Police? Probably - If Communities Ask Police to Solve Fewer Problems. Rand.

13. Scheiber N, Stockman F, Goodman JD. (2021, April 2). How Police Unions Became Such Powerful Opponents to Reform Efforts. The New York Times.

14. Montoya K. (2020, June 5). L.A. council wants social workers, not LAPD to respond to non-violent police calls. KTLA 5

15. Crodelle J, Vallejo C, Schmidtchen M, Topaz C, D'Orsogna M. (2021). Impacts of California Proposition 47 on crime in Santa Monica, California. PLoS One, 1-27.


About the author

Glen Brock is a 24-year veteran of law enforcement. He started his career with the Los Angeles Police Department in 1998 before joining the Hemet Police Department in 2006. Glen currently serves as a captain, where he manages the Operations Division which includes patrol, investigations, gang task force, K9 and SWAT. Glen is a defensive tactics and de-escalation instructor, a master TASER instructor and an Advanced Force Science Specialist. In 2017, Glen helped start a Crisis Intervention Team at the Hemet Police Department. Glen holds a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice Administration and a master's degree in Public Administration.

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