An analysis by the Detroit Free Press in March revealed that “in a city where police say emergency response times average 19 to 20 minutes, more than 400 officers are in jobs far removed from crime scenes.” Some, like Dwight Featherstone, provide chauffer service for city officials. Others work in print shops, take photographs, ferry cars, track payroll, hand out uniforms, fix computers, even run youth athletic leagues — all duties not requiring the specialized training of a police officer; all duties that could be performed by civilians, in most cases for less money. Even Police Chief Jerry Oliver concurs with this assessment, telling the Free Press that by his count, 250 of the department’s 3,900 cops could be replaced by civilians.

The Free Press put the number 250 in perspective: “That figure is four times the number of officers budgeted to solve homicides, and 12 times the number budgeted to investigate auto thefts … adding 250 beat cops would nearly double the number of police cars cruising the streets.”

Could civilians be hired for less money? The Free Press found three officers working in the department’s print shop being paid $45,488 annual salaries for performing duties essentially the same as clerks at Kinko’s, where the starting wage is about $7.50 per hour.

“They have police officers who are assigned as clerks who do nothing but read reports,” Oliver said. “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard,” he told the Free Press.

So what stands in the way of reorganization that would save money for Detroit’s police department? “The biggest stumbling block with utilizing civilians instead of sworn personnel is probably union contracts,” Thomas Hendrickson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police told the Free Press. “Some Detroit police and union officials whose membership ranks might dwindle, oppose replacing police with civilians,” the paper reported.