Leadership Spotlight

Time for a Title Change

Submitted by Assistant Chief Darrell K. Hunter of the Delray Beach, Florida, Police Department, a graduate of FBI National Academy Session 282.

A stock image of a female business woman looking through a file.

Over time, nonsworn civilian personnel have become an increasingly essential aspect of law enforcement. Agencies hire them for various positions in such areas as administration, communications, records, and information technology.

These valuable professionals offer a variety of skill sets and institutional knowledge vital to law enforcement agencies.1 Some have acquired their skills through specific training or formal education, while others have developed them through years of professional experience and organizational understanding. Within the department, they often serve as the “glue” that holds the organization together.

Changing the designation of all nonsworn personnel from “civilian” to “professional staff” more accurately reflects the invaluable and necessary contributions these employees make to their agencies. Implementing this change may build morale and also end the distinction and perceived separation between sworn and nonsworn employees.

Recognizing Their Background

To learn more about my agency’s nonsworn personnel, I asked my administrative assistant to review our staff’s educational backgrounds. Several members had obtained some form of college education — one had a Ph.D. — which none of our sworn personnel have. This led me to wonder how we were falling short of recognizing all the knowledge, experience, and skills possessed by our professional staff. The term nonsworn does not reflect all the capabilities these employees offer.

Making the Change

I presented a proposal to my chief to update and amend our current “civilian” designation to “professional staff” for all nonsworn support personnel. He approved the proposal and agreed this was well-deserved and should be enacted immediately.

After we made this change, my administrative assistant set up meetings with all civilian staff to explain the “why” behind the “what” and the reason for the change. I wanted all employees to know they are valued and appreciated for what they bring to the agency every day.

I asked each individual how they personally felt regarding the name change, and it was quite humbling. Many of our professional staff members cried, with some stating, “Someone finally spoke up for us.” Some shared that they felt like they were a little less than sworn members, but to know that someone cared for them, to see their worth, and to make sure they would be recognized as professional staff meant a lot to them.

Many other agencies have also changed the distinction of “civilian” to the more accurate and notable designation of “professional staff.” The Punta Gorda, Florida, Police Department is just one example. Its chief was firmly behind this effort and reports it has had a positive impact on her agency.

Connecting Communities with Agencies

As agencies try various methods to engage and partner more with their communities, qualified individuals can fill professional staff positions where they live and perhaps promote to supervisory roles once held by sworn personnel. Leaders should evaluate positions, such as those in recruitment, selection, animal control, and public affairs, to determine which ones could be served by professional staff. Recruiting and hiring these professional staff members will connect agencies with their community, and the community will also be part of the agency.

Further, professional staff can help recruit new members to the force. Parents may have children in high school or college seeking such opportunities as community service programs, which can provide a pool of competent future employees — sworn and nonsworn — for the department.


Designating civilian employees as professional staff has no monetary cost, yet it would more accurately describe the incredibly talented and priceless nonsworn personnel who enable our organizations to function efficiently and competently. These professionals have faithfully and diligently performed their duties with distinction. Agencies should fully acknowledge them with this revised title. The sense of belonging that comes from being appreciated by the organization to which they give their all each day affords them a sense of belonging that truly makes us one community and one police department.

“The sense of belonging that comes from being appreciated by the organization to which they give their all each day affords them a sense of belonging that truly makes us one community and one police department.”

Assistant Chief Darrell K. Hunter can be reached at hunter@mydelraybeach.com.


1 For an additional perspective on institutional knowledge, see Cynthia Lewis, “Leadership Spotlight: Institutional Knowledge — Recognizing, Valuing, and Preserving It,” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, April 8, 2021, https://leb.fbi.gov/spotlights/leadership-spotlight-institutional-knowledgerecognizing-valuing-and-preserving-it.