They’ll review cold cases. They’ll do investigative research. They’ll interview witnesses. They’ll help prepare search warrants.

But they won’t be sworn officers of the Baltimore Police Department.

Soon, there will be civilians on the job in the police department’s detective units — called “civilian investigative specialists.”

The new classification was announced in April by Mayor Brandon Scott and Police Commissioner Michael S. Harrison. And the department is planning to hire 35 of the specialists in fiscal year 2023 — which begins July 1 — to bolster its force.

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The city needs them, said Eric Melancon, chief of staff to the commissioner.

“If we can have more capacity in our background investigation units, we can hire people faster,” Melancon said. “If we can have more capacity in our public integrity bureau, we can complete misconduct investigations faster. If we can focus our clearances on cold cases, we can bring justice to the victims and families of victims of violence in this city, and that’s a big component of this.”

These positions won’t replace sworn officers, Melancon said, but will work alongside them. They’ll be particularly helpful in investigating lower-level offenses, such as property crimes, he said.

“Given the state of violence in our city, we want to make sure we’re focusing on violent crime, but we want to hold people accountable if they steal your stuff … or if these [are] lesser criminal offenses, that we’re able to make sure that we have accountability for those actions, as well,” Melancon said.

Scott said officers currently spend more than 80% of their time responding to non-emergency issues.

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The idea is part of the police department’s broader push for civilianization of its workforce, which it argues will give sworn officers more time to patrol areas and be more involved and visible within communities.

So, who will these civilian investigative specialists be?

The job postings went up over a month ago, Melancon said. As of last week, they’ve already received about 773 applications for 35 positions. Applicants can choose from positions like background investigator or cold case investigator, which will place them on different teams.

Applicants are from a variety of fields, Melancon said.

“We’ve seen folks who are coming out of college who are interested in joining the department, but not as a sworn member. We see retired law enforcement, or law enforcement members from other jurisdictions coming here. And then we have folks who are looking for a change of career but they have auditing experience on the financial side or some kind of private investigation side,” he said.

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According to the department’s job posts, applicants are required to have a college degree in a field related to criminal justice. Without a degree, they are required to have a high school diploma or GED and two years of work experience as “an investigator in any function.” The positions pay an annual salary of $49,356.

The department is also seeking skills in “conducting investigative interviews and eliciting the cooperation of individuals and businesses” and in “investigative methods,” among others.

Melancon said he is encouraged by the number of applications received. Applications are being reviewed, though it’s not clear when the department will begin hiring or training.

The Phoenix Police Department in Arizona has launched a similar program. Aimee Smith, a commander with the department’s Employment Service Bureau, said more than 1,000 people applied for 25 positions in about 30 days. Interest was so high the department closed applications because of the number received.

Phoenix police explored the idea of civilian investigators because of a shortage of officers, Smith said. The department is around 400 officers below its normal numbers, she said.

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“And so we just saw this as an opportunity to keep police officers in uniform on the street and backfill some of the spots that a detective would normally, in the past, do,” Smith said.

The department has seen a range of applicants, she said. Some are teachers, some are fraud investigators from other sectors, some are prior law enforcement. They even had a police chief from another city apply.

Smith added that some civilians already working jobs with investigative components in the police department also applied for the new positions, and about seven of them will be promoted.

Smith said police departments across the country are struggling to get quality applicants for sworn positions — yet the civilian positions have been extremely popular. It’s a way for people to be able to help their community without having to put themselves in danger out on the streets, she said.

Leaders of the Baltimore police union said in a recent interview that the department’s efforts to hire civilians are due, in part, to difficulties hiring police officers.

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“They’re trying to eliminate what we handle for calls for service because they can’t hire. They’re trying to hire civilian investigators because they can’t hire sworn,” said Sgt. Mike Mancuso, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3.

The department is currently 387 sworn officers short, BPD spokeswoman Lindsey Eldridge said in an email. The union maintains the department needs 600 more officers.

William “Bucky” MacDonald, first vice president of the police union, questioned the decision to convert some sworn officer vacancies to civilian positions.

According to the department’s website, the 35 civilian investigator positions will replace 30 sworn officer positions that are currently vacant.

“They say they’re going to put them in the telephone reporting unit. That’s a great place for cops. However, before it was retired cops, they had civilians doing those,” MacDonald said. “So, they were already 85 civilians short. Why did they need to get rid of the 30 sworn positions to fill this when they already had vacancies available?”

For Joanna Johnson, president of the Druid Park Drive New Neighborhood Association, training will be key for the new civilian investigators.

“Are they going to be trained? How is that going to work?” she wondered.

If they are properly trained, she said, she doesn’t see an issue with hiring civilian investigators.

Johnson, however, said she’d like to see more involvement by police in the community, and to “not only come in when it’s a murder or something like that, but reassure the residents that they’re there ... and talk to the kids, let them feel comfortable around police, and not only when it’s something bad happening.”

Melancon said the training in Baltimore will be extensive. Civilian investigators will first learn about Baltimore’s history and the police department’s culture and goals. Then they’ll learn investigative techniques and specific police department systems.

“We want to make sure that we aren’t just hiring people off the street,” Melancon said, “that we are giving them the tools to be successful as investigators in our department, and to ensure that they can provide that much-needed capacity that is needed in the department.”

If candidates pass that training, Melancon said, then they will be embedded into their individual units for more specific training. If they don’t pass, he said, the department will pick someone else. The positions are probationary for one year, he said.

Interest in employing civilian investigators is growing across the country, Melancon said. Smith, too, has noticed that many agencies have been interested in what Phoenix is doing.

“I’ve had, I would say, no less than 10 to maybe 15 agencies reach out to me and ask questions about it, want to see the job announcement,” Smith said.

Baltimore Banner reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this report.

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