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Pasadena Joins Trend of Longer, Fewer Shifts for Patrol Officers

August 22, 1993|VICKI TORRES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

THE REGION — The long, hot summer may seem a little longer Monday for Pasadena police officers, who will begin working 12-hour shifts on patrol.

By adopting a 3-12 schedule--three 12-hour days weekly--Pasadena joins a handful of other San Gabriel Valley police departments and a Southern California trend to boost officer morale with a no-cost-to-the-department benefit whose merits are still unclear.

Pasadena police have been working regular eight-hour shifts five days a week. "After three or four years in the field, it gets old after a while pushing a black-and-white (patrol car) around," Pasadena Police Lt. Bob Huff said. "This is just a bone for patrol."

Although the idea was to make patrolling the community more desirable with more days off, the 12-hour shift will also increase officer accountability, Huff said. Patrol officers will now be assigned to teams working the same days with the same supervisor, he said.

Statewide, the switch to 12-hour shifts began about five years ago and has gathered momentum in the past three years, said Mike DiMiceli, a management consultant with the state agency POST, Peace Officers Standards and Training.

Of 385 state law enforcement agencies responding to a 1992 POST survey, 28 used a 12-hour patrol schedule. Two-thirds of those were from Southern California--agencies trying to meet requirements to reduce air pollution by reducing employee commutes, DiMiceli said.

Yet, as more agencies adopt a 12-hour shift, the benefits and drawbacks remain debatable.

DiMiceli said "the jury is still out" on 12-hour shifts, even though most agencies who use them and the officers who work the shifts give glowing reports.

But one veteran staffing consultant in Sacramento calls 12-hour days an "inefficient, wasteful and unsafe schedule."

"I'm not a popular figure, but I have to tell them the truth," said David Hobson, a private consultant with 13 years' experience advising law enforcement agencies.

Hobson contends that claims of reduced police overtime and sick-leave costs are not borne out statistically. He argues that 12-hour shifts provide little flexibility to put officers on the street at peak times, when they are needed the most.

A 12-hour schedule also means that fewer officers are available for backing up other officers in an emergency, he said. Further, Hobson said, officers working long periods of time, especially under stress, could become fatigued and pay less attention to their job.

"If you have no work to do, a 12-hour shift is fine," Hobson said. "But if you have to go from call to call, it's a tough job."

But Hobson's claims are countered by officials from several San Gabriel Valley police departments, some of which have had 12-hour schedules for years. They include Alhambra, El Monte, Irwindale, Monterey Park and West Covina.

El Monte and Alhambra police both use three overlapping 12-hour shifts, which actually puts more officers out on the street at the times they are needed, police officials said.

El Monte Police Lt. Chuck Fullington said the department, which began the program five years ago, has found that officers are not fatigued by the long hours and have a better attitude on duty, because the days off allow them time to relax and reduce stress.

"It appears to make them sharper," the lieutenant said.

El Monte City Administrator Gregory D. Korduner said that the 12-hour shift reduced police overtime by $30,000 in the first year and that similar cost reductions have continued.

Korduner added that Mayor Patricia Wallach recently asked for a re-evaluation of the shift. Wallach said she received complaints about officers being curt with the public and wondered if the 12-hour day made officers weary and perhaps short-tempered.

In Monterey Park, officers working a 12-hour night shift who have court appearances or other police-related duties can ward off fatigue by using a special sleeping room in police headquarters, Sgt. Bill Risen said.

Risen, president of the Monterey Park Police Officers Assn., said his city four years ago switched to the 12-hour shift to cope with a shortage of police officers. Monterey Park uses only two 12-hour shifts daily with no overlapping, but Risen said the staffing level never dips below a set, safe minimum.

Other cities statewide similarly have found the 12-hour shift solves staffing problems during budget shortages or times of unfilled vacancies, DiMiceli said. But the consultant agreed with Hobson that flexibility is sometimes sacrificed, especially when no third overlap shift is scheduled.

Reduced overtime and sick leave does occur initially, DiMiceli said. But after a few years, those costs return to the same levels as before the 12-hour shifts, he said.

More serious, a communications gap can be created under a 12-hour shift because of the four-day stretch off-duty, the POST consultant said. Officers can lose touch with their station supervisors and with events on the beat or in the community, DiMiceli said. The four-day gap thus could detrimentally affect community policing, he said.

Also, a 12-hour schedule can result in more complexity because officers end up owing four hours every week for a 40-hour paycheck. The extra hours must be scheduled on special make-up shifts. For these reasons, DiMiceli said, the increase in the number of agencies using the shifts has been steady, but slow.

Pasadena is taking a slow road, Huff said. The city will try out the shifts for six months, then evaluate the policy to see if it should continue, he said.

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