VAN NUYS — Saying they hope it will boost morale, Los Angeles Police Department officials are putting patrol officers in four divisions, including one in the San Fernando Valley, on a schedule of three 12-hour days per week in an experiment that could eventually become the norm citywide.
The yearlong pilot program calls for officers to switch from a traditional workweek to a dramatically shortened schedule beginning Jan. 22. Under the program, patrol officers at Van Nuys, Rampart, Wilshire and Harbor divisions, will work three 12-hour shifts a week and detectives will work four 10-hour shifts.
Supporters of the compressed schedule say the shorter workweek will boost morale without incurring extra expenses to the department, by allowing officers to spend more time with their families and less time commuting to and from work.
Some LAPD officers have already resigned to join other departments that offer such schedules, police officials and union leaders said.
"The employees want it," said LAPD Capt. Richard Eide, of the Van Nuys Division. "Happy, satisfied officers treat people better and they work harder."
By providing greater flexibility in scheduling, Eide said the new schedule also holds the potential to allow the LAPD to do much more of the community-based policing programs that the department is now emphasizing. The reason: Because patrol officers will work four fewer hours in each standard workweek, they will now--after allowance for a monthly paid holiday--"owe" an extra day's work to the department at the end of each four-week period.
On these catch-up days, local commanders will be able to assign officers to special projects, he said, painting a scenario in which as many as 75 officers could be deployed to "saturate" a community and drum up support for neighborhood policing programs.
The department has determined that the new schedule does not violate federal labor laws that sometimes hinder private employers who try to implement such plans, Eide said.
While nearly half the state's law enforcement's agencies are estimated to offer shortened workweeks to their employees, the LAPD is "the first large agency to venture into" compressed schedules, said Dennis Zine, a director of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.
Under orders from LAPD Chief Willie L. Williams, a committee was formed following the Northridge earthquake to study the effects of a compressed schedule, after damaged highways made it difficult for officers, many of whom commute from faraway suburbs, to travel to and from work.
Another cause for the study was that many officers stated during exit interviews that they were resigning to work at police departments that offer such modified schedules.
"We need to stop attrition and take care of our officers now," Zine said. "We're trying to make them happy and make this an attractive position despite the stress and hazards."
The LAPD was apparently the only police department out of 11 Southern California law enforcement agencies that did not offer some form of a compressed schedule to its employees, according to a memo circulated by Williams, Zine said.
Zine said that so far, the only concerns voiced over the program have come from officers at the Rampart division, who have heavier court loads than officers in other areas. Police officials have been holding conversations with court administrators in an effort to provide officers with more flexibility when it comes to appearing in court to testify against suspects.
LAPD Patrol Capt. Betty Kelepcz, of the Harbor Division, said her station had initially conducted a study on compressed work schedule several years ago. Plans to implement a modified work schedule, which had been approved by then-Police Chief Daryl Gates, were put on hold following the Los Angeles riots, she said.
"Officers have been waiting for this for years," Kelepcz said. "There are a lot of people that want to work it."
Zine said the LAPD and the police union will establish committees to monitor fatigue, response times, injuries and auto collisions on duty, personnel complaints, productivity, morale, the frequency of the use of force and a laundry list of other factors to gauge the success of the program.
Kelepcz said a recent LAPD study revealed that for a short period of time, officers assigned to the new work schedule will be fatigued late in their shifts, but that their fatigue will subside after two to three months.
"Other agencies said (their officers) were tired, but not to the point of being unsafe," she said.
The experimental schedule appears to have won the approval of even one of the department's toughest critics.
"I think it's a great idea," said James Fyfe, a former New York City police officer and professor of criminal justice at Temple University in Philadelphia, who co-wrote a book on police brutality. Fyfe, who has in the past criticized the LAPD for being "insular and out of touch" when it comes to use of force, embraced the concept of fewer workdays for LAPD officers.