Columbia Police seeks approval to create more civilian positions

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COLUMBIA - The city council is expected to approve the department's request to add more civilian positions to the forensics team Monday.  Public Information Specialist Bryanna Larimer said civilian employees help the department handle non-emergency police duties. That way sworn officers can focus on responding to emergency calls.

"Right now we are understaffed when it comes to our sworn officers," Larimer said. "So our department really looks at efficiency, and tries to determine where can we make some transitions, or make some moves. In this case, there's certain positions that civilian employees can manage, where we then can pull the sworn officers back to the streets."

Larimer is a civilian employee herself.

"I was actually the first civilian employee to come into the public relations unit back in October of last year," Larimer said. "This is a position that was actually created for a civilian employee."

The most common civilian workers are the community service agents (CSA's). They wear light blue uniforms instead of black, and they handle daily operations such as parking violations, traffic accidents or work around the police station.

CSA Jake Waldrup said people should appreciate the civilian employee program because it allows sworn officers to be more available to respond to emergency situations.

"If regular patrol officers had to respond to every single vehicle collision, every single parking violation, and everything else, that would draw out the response time significantly," Waldrup said.

Larimer said, in addition to freeing up more patrol officers to respond to calls, there is a financial benefit from hiring civilian employees.

"There's definitely a decrease in expenses when it comes to hiring a civilian employee over a swore officer in that position."

Jacob Waldrup said CSA's often get mixed responses when they arrive at a scene.

"People tend to get that instinctive realization that we're not full officers," Waldrup said. "A lot of people treat us a little more positively because of that. I think on the other end of the spectrum there's gonna be some people that don't respect you at all because they don't think you have any kind of authority."

Waldrup said, regardless of people's attitude, he has to do his job.

"It's one of those things where, you just have to be as professional as possible," Waldrup said. "Typically, I think the people that give us grief for what we do, are gonna be the same people to give a full officer grief for what they do. They just tend to angle it differently at us."

Waldrup said civilian employees are supposed to serve as ambassadors between officers and the community.

"There's very few contacts law enforcement has with the general public, that are a positive contact," Waldrup said. "Especially in our job. People that are coming here are upset over something, or if we're responding to something when we're on the road like a vehicle collision. Nobody's ever happy to get into a vehicle collision."

Waldrup said CSA's must balance their obligation to do their duty to the police department, but also communicate their interest and concern for the community.

"It's a personal goal, and I think a department goal as well to try and turn those interactions around as best we can, and leave everybody feeling positive toward the end of the interaction as opposed to the negative feeling when they make the initial contact," Waldrup said.

Waldrup said, after he finishes school, he plans to become a full officer in the Columbia Police Department. He said his two years as a CSA have allowed him to make valuable relationships with people in the community.

"It helps you get prepared to become an officer, because you have a lot of the similar kinds of contacts with the general public," Waldrup said.