Police upset about shift change

Chief says 12-hours-on means officers have little contact with their colleagues

Posted: Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Despite the dangers on his job, Juneau Police Officer Paul Comolli likes the flexibility of his schedule. Working on a 12-hour shift, he is off every two or three days.

"I can go to many school functions," said Comolli, who has worked for the Juneau Police Department since 1986. "I can go to my son's football games."

But Juneau Police Chief Richard Gummow sees the 12-hour shift as a source of problems.

"With a 12-hour shift, our police officers rarely have contact with other officers," Gummow said. "The officers are consistently not available to the administration, the public and prosecutors. We have received ongoing complaints."

Gummow said lack of communication has caused more problems in Juneau because patrol officers maintain responsibility for their cases until their completion. Officers in other cities normally hand over their cases to detectives once they finish the preliminary investigation.

To improve efficiency, Gummow announced the officers will work eight hours a day and five days a week, starting on Jan. 10. The announcement has drawn complaints from many of the 35 patrol officers who will be affected by the change.

At an Assembly of the Whole meeting Monday evening, police officers and their families packed the chambers to hear their union representative defend the 12-hour shift.

"There was no mention of a shift change during the bargaining of the contract this year," said Jim Gasper, who represents the Public Safety Employees Association. "Why were we not informed of this then instead of facing the implementation just three months before this is a done deal?"

According to city Personnel Director Joan Wilkerson's letters to Gasper, the city has the right to change shift hours.

"The city believes the code does not provide a duty to bargain - only to consult," said Wilkerson, who quoted the Webster's New World Dictionary on the differences between "bargain" and "consult" in her letter.

Responding to Gasper's claim that the city failed to consult with the union before the plan was adopted, Wilkerson said the ordinance requires that the city consult the union but doesn't require it to do so before announcing the decision.

Gummow said the 12-hour shift started in January of 1995 as an experiment to increase the number of staff on patrol, improve supervision and overcome a huge training deficit.

"We did achieve those goals but it didn't take long for significant problems to arise," Gummow said. "In November 1995, I was ready to end the 12-hour shift, but the police officers said I should give it more time."

Gummow said although he has been aware of the problems, he tolerated them because he didn't want to decrease the number of deployed staff for fear that it might compromise officer and public safety.

Gummow said he had mentioned a shift change several times to officers and was finally able to do so this year because the city added four police officer positions.

Officer Comolli said he thinks the city has handled the change poorly. "In the worst case, we would wait for another three years and the first thing we would ask in our contract negotiation is to change back to the 12-hour shift," he said.

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.

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