Chief Robert White expects the Denver Police Department to save an estimated $600,000 annually when civilians are hired to fill about 30 jobs now held by officers, many of whom will go back to patrol assignments.
The department has already performed a study to determine which positions are to be filled by civilians. They are expected to include administrative assistants, crime-scene investigators and fingerprint technicians, Capt. Jennifer Steck said.
"The chief really looked at all positions, and he was careful to determine which positions he believed a civilian employee could do," she said.
If the initial changes are successful, more civilians are likely to be placed in jobs that don't require a gun and a badge, Steck said.
The plan has drawn objections from the police union.
Some jobs that could be up for grabs — such as crime-scene analysts who collect evidence at the scene — require law enforcement experience, said Nick Rogers, president of the Denver Police Protective Association.
"It helps to have been a police officer," he said. "You have to know the streets and know the nuances of how these crimes are committed. You can't learn that in a book."
Training for the jobs available at community colleges and other schools can equip graduates with knowledge that a police officer might not have, said professor Mary Dodge, director of criminal-justice programs at the University of Colorado Denver's School of Public Affairs.
And Denver will be able to hire from other departments that already have civilians handling the tasks.
"There are many jobs that a civilian with the proper training can do well, and crime- scene investigations is among them," Dodge said.
Civilians may also be more appropriate in reception areas where employees interact with the public than officers who have been hardened by their work on the street, she added.
The process of replacing officers could begin within the next few weeks, Steck said.
Budget constraints have led to a drop in the number of Denver officers to about 1,386 today, from 1,450 before White was sworn in almost a year ago.
Since his appointment by Mayor Michael Hancock last December, White has been working to get more police on the streets.
The department employs 240 civilians, including crime analysts and staff assistants.
Police departments across the country have been cutting costs by replacing officers with civilians, said Richard Brady, president of the Matrix Consulting Group, which provides analytical services to state and local governments.
Dodge said she knows of no other department in Colorado that has replaced officers with civilians.
In San Jose, Calif.; San Diego; Seattle; and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., civilians have taken positions held by police, Brady said.
"This has been a growing trend for at least the last 20 years," Brady said. "It is something that reappears as an important topic in every recession because of the cost savings."