BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The City of Bloomington is exploring new steps to help deal with a police officer shortage, and it involves the possibility of hiring civilian officers.

Mayor John Hamilton told FOX59/CBS4 that a public safety task force made several recommendations to city leaders about addressing the need for more police officers.

“It means we are looking at ways to help retain the ones we have, the sworn officers we do [have] and of course recruit more,” Hamilton said. “But also look into new ways to respond in the whole 911 emergency response, police and public safety system.”

One of those recommendations, Hamilton said, involved hiring civilians to help respond to certain 911 calls. As the department looks to fill some 20 police officer positions, Hamilton has proposed hiring five civilian responders who would be known as “community service specialists.”

These individuals would respond to certain 911 calls like noise complaints or welfare checks. The mayor said the idea is about filling the void in the meantime and allowing police to focus on more serious issues.

“It’s probably good to think about this as a big 911 funnel,” Hamilton described. “In a way what we’re trying to do is to protect their positions so they don’t have to do things that they’re not very built for, maybe overqualified for in a way. It’s trying to build the most robust response to do what kind of response we need in all of our streets and all of our community.”

Hamilton said the pilot program would feature two teams. One team would consist of sworn officers and community service specialists, while the other team would not include any sworn officers.

“They’re not going to be a wide range of calls,” Hamilton said. “I mean, we want to be careful that our first priority is always keeping our own people safe.”

A handful of residents told FOX59/CBS4 that they had a couple of concerns and questions about the idea. Others said they think it could be very beneficial.

“If you can bring somebody else in that has other special talents, that frees them up what they need to do,” said Michael Corbe. “We can’t have police trying to do absolutely everything. If they can hand off those kinds of situations to who has the right kind of training and is a little more in-depth in dealing with situations that require something other than a police presence, so much the better.”

Whether they agreed with the idea or not, everyone FOX59/CBS4 spoke with said they would want the civilian officers to receive some sort of training.

“If they’re trained properly, there shouldn’t be,” Corbe replied when asked if he had any safety concerns.

While the mayor did not give specifics about possible training, he did address the concerns about the possibility of a call escalating into something more serious.

“That’s an ever-present concern when responding in the public safety system,” he said. “It’s something everybody is aware of. It’s one of the reasons we work so hard to train, support and equip our professionals.”

The Community Service Specialists would not have a badge or Weapon, Hamilton said. He also said they would not be able to make arrests.

Mayor Hamilton introduced his 2024 budget proposal to the full council on Monday night. It is being discussed in several committees this week before the council votes on it.