With budgets strapped at all levels of local government, police agencies around the country are turning to civilians to handle jobs once reserved for uniformed officers—up to and including investigating crime scenes. In San Francisco, for example, these amateur cops have been tasked with investigating burglaries and property crimes, USA Today reports. The city says it saves $40,000 per person on training, equipment, and benefits.
Mesa, Arizona, meanwhile, has hired customer service employees away from Costco, Barnes & Noble, and Southwest Airlines, assuming they’ll be adept at dealing with victims as they investigate burglaries, frauds, and vehicle thefts. And in Durham, volunteers canvass neighborhoods after murders and violent crimes. Colorado Springs pressed taxi drivers into service. “It’s all being driven by the economy, and we should expect to see more of it,” says one law professor of the trend. But police unions are furious, saying the moves are designed to circumvent labor contracts. (Read more amateur stories.)