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The San Francisco Police Department will launch a new, 6-month pilot program to train civilians to investigate some non-violent, non-emergency crimes, a police spokesman said today.

The Police Department plans to begin hiring 15 civilians for the pilot program in January 2011, police spokesman Albie Esparza said.

The civilians will be trained at an academy and in the field and will be subjected to a background check before they hit the streets.

They will respond to non-violent calls for service, such as reports of burglaries, which are not considered a priority, Esparza said.

Often, victims of non-priority crimes have to wait several hours before an officer can respond to take a report.

Hiring civilians to take reports is designed reduce the amount of time a victim has to wait for an investigator to respond. At the same time, it will free up sworn officers to respond to violent crimes and to be more proactive in fighting crime.

Civilian investigators will be trained to do basic crime scene investigation, such as dust for fingerprints and document the scene, Esparza said.

San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon came up with the idea for the program in 2004 when he was working as assistant police chief in Los Angeles. In 2006, while serving as police chief in Mesa, Ariz., he implemented a similar pilot program.

Mesa’s civilian police investigators program recently launched citywide, Esparza said. That program has resulted in a 40 percent reduction of workload for sworn police officers, he said.

The pilot program is budgeted for six months in San Francisco, after which it will be evaluated to see if it is effective.

Sworn officers will still respond to all violent crimes and crimes in progress.

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