Pilot program will put civilian cops on SF streets


While police officers are being laid off in cities like Oakland, San Francisco's police chief is adopting the program despite strong opposition from the police union.

The whole idea behind civilian investigators is to speed up response time, save money, and free up sworn officers so they can focus on more important things. Currently in San Francisco, sworn officers respond to non-violent crimes such as burglaries and car break-ins.

But under the pilot program, 15 civilian investigators, who would cost about half as much as sworn officers, will be assigned to respond to those types of cases. They will be trained to collect evidence, conduct interviews and photograph crime scenes.

Police Chief George Gascon came up with the idea, which was approved by the mayor and the Board of Supervisors. The police commission, meanwhile, plans to monitor the program closely.

"It has the possibility to keep armed police officers on the street to respond to violent crimes much more quickly, which is the important thing, and for very minor property-related crimes to allow civilians do very simple evidence collection," says San Francisco police commissioner Jim Hammer. "If it gets into any more serious kinds of crimes or involved interviews, I think only highly trained police officers and investigators with a lot of experience ought to be doing those types of interviews."

The six-month $955,000 pilot program is scheduled to begin in January. The civilian investigators are set to work in only a couple of San Francisco's 10 district stations.

The program was adopted last week as part of the city's budget.

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