New shifts improve policing

Posted: Friday, December 17, 2004

Due to concerns expressed by the Public Safety Employees Association (PSEA) regarding my decision to return to eight-hour shifts, I believe it's important to provide additional information regarding the benefits we confidently expect to accomplish with this change. Eight-hour shifts will provide the department with greater flexibility in staffing, reduce officer fatigue, and allow greater case continuity.

Currently, officers assigned to patrol spend half their available workdays as scheduled days off. Officer absence for two out of four weeks presents significant problems. The current 12-hour shifts do not allow officers to be present more than three or four days per week; therefore, we struggle with officer availability to administration and command staff, citizens, and others involved in the criminal justice system. Lack of consistent police officer presence results in delays in completing investigations and submitting police reports. What is an advantage to the officer is a significant disadvantage to the department, interfering with efficient delivery of police services to the community.

Officers assigned to eight-hour shifts will work the same number of hours per 28-day cycle as they do working 12-hour shifts. They will have the same number of hours available for their family, although those hours will occur at different times.

The union has expressed concern that officers will not have weekend days off. This is only partially correct. An eight-hour deployment schedule will allow 49 percent of the patrol staff to have at least one weekend day off. The balance of staff will have mid-week days off. This is necessary to provide seven-days-a-week, around-the-clock coverage, and to allow additional officers to be scheduled to work weekends when workload demands are greater. Juneau Police Department has a long-standing practice of allowing officers to trade days off and schedule time off for any reason, provided necessary staffing is in place to cover the shift.

PSEA maintains returning to eight-hour shifts is contrary to national trends. It's very difficult to compare police departments with respect to the patrol shifts that each may employ. Budget, number of officers per 1,000 population, number of service calls, available help from other communities, and organizational development differ significantly between departments. Some have compared Juneau with Anchorage. Anchorage has a substantially different labor contract, a larger budget and department, and 10-hour, not 12-hour, shifts.

We considered alternatives, but concluded that the only feasible option was returning to eight-hour shifts. We value and support all JPD employees. In this case, however, we believe the department has a greater obligation to provide the public with the most efficient delivery of police services possible. We reviewed all potential budgetary impacts occurring as a result of this change and determined they would be negligible.

Our ability to assign hours of work and employees to shifts of our designation is a management right clearly spelled out in the city code and labor agreement negotiated with PSEA. In an effort to allow officers time to adjust their personal lives, JPD provided the union more than 100 days advance notice of this plan. Before this notice, JPD administration met with supervisors on several occasions to elicit ideas to improve deployment schedules and adjust minimum staffing requirements. On Sept. 24, all officers were invited to attend a meeting to discuss patrol deployment schedules. The meeting lasted more than two hours and officers were given detailed information about why the change was necessary and what we hoped to accomplish with the change. All questions from officers were answered as completely and thoroughly as possible.

Further, JPD administration and the city have offered repeatedly to meet with PSEA to discuss issues regarding the change. PSEA has refused to meet.

In conclusion, our decision to discontinue 12-hour shifts was undertaken with considerable thought and deliberation. We knew the decision may be unpopular with the union, but making this change is imperative to the efficient delivery of police services to the public. The needs of the public outweigh the personal preferences of our officers. Changing to eight-hour shifts will provide the department with greater flexibility in staffing, reduce fatigue, and allow greater case continuity.

• Richard W. Gummow is the chief of police of the Juneau Police Department.

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