A Different Shade of Blue: An Evaluation of the Civilian Detective Concept and Its Impact on Police Capabilities

David Green




As homeland security has evolved, police roles have expanded to encompass a wider array of responsibilities. Meeting these responsibilities in austere fiscal environments, however, has become increasingly difficult for cities in financial distress. Rather than expanding, many cities have reduced capabilities by cutting large segments of their police personnel. This has resulted in higher crime rates and dissatisfied citizens. Making matters worse, the Government Accountability Office reports the underlying economic conditions driving these cuts will continue to exist for the next several decades.[1] In order to adapt, some cities have adopted cost-reduction policies that employ civilian personnel to perform the duties of sworn police detectives. This concept represents a profound ideological shift in how cities protect the public.

This thesis was written as an evaluation of the civilian detective policy and was designed to determine the effects of this policy on nine U.S. law enforcement organizations. Through interviews of knowledgeable spokespersons and a review of documents, this research applied quantitative and qualitative measures designed to assess each department’s individual experience. It then compared those experiences in order to identify similar and dissimilar themes. To determine if employing civilians provides a cost advantage, benefit-cost analyses (BCAs) were performed using the metrics of salaries, training/readiness time, and work output. Additionally, this research analyzed employment criteria, training protocols, and scope of duties to assess if the policy is applied consistently, and to determine the adequacy of current training and certification guidelines.

The research concluded that, with the civilian detective policy, cities can achieve an average cost savings of 29 percent while maintaining or enhancing various capabilities. The research also determined some cities are using the policy to find better-skilled employees by recruiting from larger candidate pools than those available for sworn positions. While the benefits of this policy appear substantial, the research also discovered an absence of national uniformity needed to guide cities in their research and adoption. This void has resulted in inconsistent training standards, lack of professional certification, and uncertainty on the part of officials responsible for policy implementation. The research also indicated that civilian detectives lack the public recognition and legitimacy of sworn law enforcement professionals, whose roles are better known.

One of the barriers to this policy’s wider adoption is the absence of a uniform national framework that outlines the role and scope of civilian detective duties. Until a uniform national framework is published by a credible authority, cities utilizing civilian detectives will risk continued misunderstanding and personnel underutilization. Additionally, cities that have not adopted this policy will be less apt to do so while the concept is mired in ambiguity. Civilian detectives cannot perform arrests or other duties deemed physically dangerous; data describing how often these duties are needed for detective work is largely non-existent, making it difficult for cities to perform accurate BCAs. Additionally, there are no uniform guidelines regulating the training or certification of civilian detectives.

Detectives comprise approximately 15 percent of the nation’s 765,000 sworn law enforcement personnel.[2] As a result, the savings made possible by this policy could reshape one of the largest and most expensive components of the homeland security enterprise. Given the current absence of data, uniform national framework for policy adoption, and training and certification guidelines, however, it is difficult for those savings to be realized on wider scale. As a result, this thesis provides the following recommendations:

  1. Further research should be conducted to more accurately quantify the rate at which arrests and physically dangerous duties are core components of detective assignments.
  2. The United States Department of Justice should sponsor and fund development of a uniform national framework for adoption of civilian detective policies. The framework should be developed by a public policy institute with credibility on public safety matters.
  3. State peace officer standards and training commissions should establish standardized training and certification guidelines.



Chaiken, Jan M., Peter W. Greenwood, and Joan R. Petersilia. The Criminal Investigation Process (P-5628-1). Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1976. http://www.rand.org/pubs/ papers/P5628-1.html

Government Accountability Office. State and Local Governments’ Fiscal Outlook: 2014 Update (GAO-15-224SP). Washington, DC: Government Accountability Office, 2014. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-224SP.

Reaves, Brian. Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, 2008. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, July 2011. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ csllea08.pdf.



[1] Government Accountability Office, State and Local Governments’ Fiscal Outlook: 2014 Update (GAO-15-224SP) (Washington, DC: Government Accountability Office, 2014), 1–2, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-224SP.

[2] Jan M. Chaiken, Peter W. Greenwood, and Joan R. Petersilia, The Criminal Investigation Process (P-5628-1) (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1976), 28, http://www.rand.org/pubs/papers/P5628-1.html; Brian Reaves, Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, 2008 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, July 2011), 1, http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/csllea08.pdf.

No Comments

Post a Comment