Cop protest draws lunchtime crowd

Protesters rally against reducing patrol shifts from 12 to 8 hours

Posted: Thursday, January 06, 2005

It wasn't police making the most clamor Wednesday about a planned change for patrolmen from 12-hour to eight-hour shifts.

Much of the noise during the noon rally at Marine Park came from passing motorists, responding to signs asking them to "honk if you love cops."

Police Chief Richard Gummow announced last fall that the shift change will go into effect Monday, Jan. 10. More than 100 people crowded the park to protest. Many ducked under the covered picnic area to avoid the drizzle. Others stood on the icy sidewalk, holding signs to make their point.

"A lot of these guys are my friends," said Debbie White, a supporter. She said her husband works rotating shifts, so she knows it can make family life difficult.

Officer Paul Comolli, shop vice president for the Juneau Police Department Employee Association, said he was encouraged by the support. The next step could be getting signatures for a voter initiative to address officer's concerns.

City Attorney John Hartle said an initiative would be within their rights, but until he sees it, he couldn't comment on its effect.

City Clerk Laurie Sica said it would take 2,323 valid signatures to call a special election before the next scheduled election in October.

Gummow believes the change will improve communication, efficiency and case continuity.

"By law he can do that," Comolli said. "Is it the right thing to do?"

Susan Fitzgerald held a sign saying "everyone loses with 8s." Her boyfriend is an officer, and between them they have four children. She figured they all would be able to get together once a week under the new schedule.

More shifts mean more briefings, taking officers off the streets, she said. As it is, her boyfriend gets calls from the district attorney and has to testify in court on his days off.

Vikki Irwin dangled a personal message from her umbrella as she stood curbside. Four years ago Wednesday, police saved her son Jordan's life.

Jordan Irwin, then 20, was injured seriously in an all-terrain vehicle accident near Lemon Creek on Jan. 5, 2001. The response from police made the difference, his mother said Wednesday.

She called the shift change "a quality of life issue." The police do a good job working with people in the community and deserve consideration, she added.

Comolli said the day shift would run 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., the swing shift from 3 to 11 p.m. and the graveyard shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

He believes shift employees would be entitled to a 5 percent higher salary for working swing and 10 percent more for working graveyard, pay adjustments that officers gave up when they went to 12-hour shifts.

Those pay adjustments would cost the city about $248,000 through the end of the contract in July 2007, he said. "When push comes to shove, they'll have to pay that."

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