Expert to ABC27: What matters most is what civilians in a police department do, not how many of them the department has

Harrisburg

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Following a report by ABC27 News on Monday that Harrisburg police planned to hire more civilians to proactively combat violence, ABC27 wondered how deficient the department might be compared to others in terms of the number of civilians it employs.

The answer? It’s not deficient compared to other similarly departments serving Pennsylvania municipalities with between 25,000 and 75,000 residents.

As of 2018, the most complete year for which the FBI had complete data for all relevant departments, here’s the number of civilians some Midstate Pa. departments (among those with between 25,000 and 75,000 residents) had for every 100,000 residents, along with their violent crime rates for that year per 100,000 residents:

MunicipalityCivilian police dept. employees per 100,000 residentsMurders/homicides per 100,000 residentsViolent crimes per 100,000 residents
Harrisburg59311,080
York34451,019
Lancaster403701
Lebanon128322
Susquehanna Twp120183
Lower Paxton Twp140176
Derry Twp760159
Manheim Twp300124
Middletown Township13073
(Source: FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program)

Derry Township, with a far lower violent crime rate than Harrisburg, had more civilian police employees relative to its population. All other municipalities had fewer.

But David Harris — a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who studies police, police practices and search and seizure law — said these numbers by themselves don’t tell a holistic story.

“The number of civilians is less crucial than what you have them doing,” Harris said. “It’s all about what you assign civilians to and how you use them.”

Additionally, civilian police department employees in some municipalities might handle a function that other departments handle in other municipalities.

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