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Cops: Policy driving some of them out

Police Chief Gummow stands by change to eight-hour shifts

Posted: Sunday, July 03, 2005

Jeremy King said he will miss working for the Juneau Police Department after he turns in his gear Tuesday.

But he won't miss his family, he said.

"They're driving away good cops" King said Friday, before getting ready for one of his last eight-hour shifts.

On Friday, when he goes to work for the Marysville, Wash., police, he'll be back on 12-hour shifts, with a schedule similar to the one Juneau officers had until January.

With opposition from the officers, Juneau Police Chief Richard Gummow put them on eight-hour shifts on Jan. 10.

Paul Comolli, president of the Juneau Police Chapter of the Public Safety Employees Association, said the department will have a staffing crisis by the end of next year.

"It is not a crisis," Gummow said.

The department does face turnover and the loss of experienced employees, along with other departments, he said.

"It is not something you easily overcome," Gummow said.

Although some officers may say the shift change has influenced their decision to leave the department, Gummow said he doesn't believe eight-hour shifts have any effect on recruiting new officers.

Putting officers on eight-hour shifts was the best way to manage the department at current staffing levels, he said.

Gummow said he doesn't expect the department will lose as many officers as Comolli projected it would: 16 officers by late next year. That would be half of the 32 positions.

The major reason for the turnover, Gummow said, is that many officers hired when the department expanded in the 1980s are reaching their eligibility for retirement. But he doesn't expect all of them to retire at once.

Shortly before the shift change went into effect Jan. 10, officer Rayme Vinson said the change was part of the reason he was making January his last month in the department.

Officer Greg Drake will leave the same day as King. He said his wife was offered a great job in Idaho.

"The issues with the Juneau Police Department have made it an easy decision," he said.

Comolli said another officer will leave at the end of the month, and a sergeant will retire then, as well.

The five losses already amount to nearly 20 percent of patrol officers, Comolli said. Other officers will soon have been with the department long enough to retire, and current policies aren't helping the work environment, he said.

King, in the nearly empty house he and his wife bought in the Mendenhall Valley, said it isn't a matter of police officers demanding special benefits.

"You need the perk," he said.

Under the 12-hour shifts, officers worked 168 hours during four weeks, receiving no overtime, Comolli said. They had every other weekend off.

The eight-hour shifts, beginning at 6:15 a.m., 2:15 p.m. and 10:15 p.m., have officers working five days and getting two days off.

King said his two days didn't fall during the weekend. Working the middle shift, he barely saw his family.

The police department he will be going to has officers working 12-hour shifts, with three days on and three days off.

Meanwhile, replacement officers must be trained and they'll have to work for a time with another officer before being able to work alone.

"The citizens of Juneau deserve better," King said.

King said he understands that someone working eight-hour days and 40-hour weeks in an office may not understand the officers' displeasure. But police work, he said, is not a normal job.

"I deal with everyone's worst day," he said. The job carries an "emotional pressure" that other jobs don't, he said.

King, who came to Juneau on Labor Day weekend in 2003, said his children liked it here, and his wife was the nurse at Riverbend Elementary School last year. The family was active in Glacier Valley Baptist Church. King's parents were even talking about moving to Juneau.

"The plan was, this was home," King said.

Drake said he has been a Juneau police officer since 1996. He had worked in Petersburg and Sitka with the intention of working his way to Juneau.

"I moved up here when I was 14," he said. "This is where I wanted to be a cop."

Drake said his wife has a good job at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, and he will be going with her. He expects to find work in the area.

"We made a decision to move," Drake said. "She was definitely a lot happier on the 12-hour shifts."

"There is no question some of our officers aren't happy," Gummow said of the new shifts. "To me it's a question of efficiency of delivery of services."

The 12-hour shifts had officers off at least half the days of the year, he said. The eight-hour shifts will continue until the department has the staffing to provide a viable alternative, he said.

Comolli said factors related to the shift change have resulted in several grievances, two of which will be going to arbitration. One concerns overtime pay for officers who have to work beyond their eight-hour shifts.

Another addresses shift-differential pay. City policy provides that staff working other than the day-shift receive extra pay, which the department doesn't provide.

Gummow said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on issues headed to arbitration.

Drake said it was a tough decision for him to leave. He's made great friends.

"It's a very professional department," he said. "There's going to be more be more officers leave, and the chief's not going to be able to hire replacements fast enough."

Gummow said the shifts aren't even discussed in recruitment.

"We have seen no impact on our ability to recruit," he said. "We're getting the same number of applications we always have."

As the department has more vacancies, it will work harder to recruit new people, just as every other police department in the country does, he said.

"We'll do whatever we need to do to provide service to the public," Gummow said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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