Police, city cannot agree on shift change

Posted: Monday, December 20, 2004

Juneau Police Chief Richard Gummow has faced opposition from patrol officers after he proposed changing their shift from 12 hours to eight. Thirty-five patrol officers would be affected by the change, proposed to take effect Jan. 10. Many have said Gummow's reasons don't make sense. Their biggest concern is that they would spend less time with their families.

Officer Paul Comolli, representing the officers' union, said the proposal has eroded their trust in the city.

"We all knew this was a tough job when we signed on, but we thought the pitfalls would be on the street with someone who wished to harm us," he wrote in a letter to the Assembly earlier this month.

The officers are asking the Assembly to revise an ordinance so the officers can bargain with the city. Mayor Bruce Botelho said he would review the language of the proposed ordinance for the officers but wouldn't promise to introduce an ordinance.

Last week, Gummow sent a five-page memo to City Manager Rod Swope and the Assembly defending his shift-change proposal.

Gummow said the change would improve efficiency, foster communication and avoid employee fatigue. On a 12-hour-shift, officers work 14 days and have 14 days off during a 28-day cycle.

"Because schedules do not allow officers to be present in more than three or four days per week, we continue to struggle with officer availability to the administration and command staff, to citizens and to others involved in the criminal justice system," Gummow wrote.

Comolli said the city informed officers of the change only three months before its scheduled implementation date.

The officers have used their outreach skills to fight the proposal. Flyers are posted on the glass doors of some local businesses, urging the public to support their police officers. Booklets of petition letters are sent to Assembly members. Wives and children packed Assembly Chambers to challenge the proposal.

Gummow said assigning officers' working hours is management's right. He argued that the shift change wouldn't decrease the officers' family time.

"Officers assigned to eight-hour patrol shifts will work the same number of hours per 28-hour cycle as they do working 12-hour shifts," Gummow said. "They will have the same number of hours available to spend with their family, although those hours may occur at different times."

He said that under the proposed eight-hour shift, 49 percent of the patrol staff would have at least one weekend day off. The rest would have mid-week days off.

"It is important to note that we have informed officers that they may swap days off with other members of their particular team with the approval of their sergeant," he added in his memo.

One of the letters police forwarded to the Assembly to support their position came from Patrol Officer Krag Campbell. "I cringe at the thought of working eight-hour shifts," he wrote, describing how he may only get to see his family for 10 hours a week.

"There is also the potential for me to never have a weekend off," he wrote, suggesting the possibility of going an entire year without having a scheduled full day off with his family.

Comolli also argued that eight-hour shifts would decrease efficiency. "The community will lose over 3,200 man-hours to the additional briefings and breaks."

Gummow said he knew that the proposal would be unpopular with officers but the change is supported by the command staff and administration.

"We all understood it was imperative to make fundamental changes in how we employ our officers," he said. "To accomplish that change, we must place the needs of the public above the personal needs of our officers."

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