Moving to boost officer morale, the Los Angeles City Council approved an agreement with the police union Friday that paves the way for the Police Department to put patrol officers on a compressed work schedule, starting in two divisions Nov. 18.
Under the plan crafted by Mayor James K. Hahn, most officers will work 12 hours a day, three days a week. The others will work 10 hours a day, four days a week.
The schedule will be introduced in the Central and Hollywood divisions, and roll out to the other patrol stations at the rate of two a month.
Eventually the schedule will be extended to special units, detectives and traffic officers.
Three council members opposed the plan because of concern over officer fatigue and cost, but the majority was convinced the new schedules will stem the flood of resignations and early retirements that have left the LAPD more than 1,000 officers short of its peak strength.
"I believe the flexible work schedule is integral to improving recruitment, retention and morale within the Police Department," council President Alex Padilla said. "Our department cannot stand the loss of police officers at the rate we've experienced in the last couple of years."
The council vote sealed a major victory for Hahn, who had made the compressed work schedule a key issue in this year's mayoral campaign. He won the endorsement of the Police Protective League after he pledged his support for the plan, giving him a critical edge in the hotly contested race.
The mayor said Friday that the schedule will improve public safety.
It will allow the department to rebuild by attracting recruits and stopping the exodus of officers to police agencies that offer the shorter workweek.
Because the longer shifts will overlap, the department will be able to have more officers on the streets during peak crime periods, Hahn said. Officers who have more time to spend with their families also will be happier and more productive, he added.
"This is a great day for the men and women of the Los Angeles Police Department and the people of Los Angeles that we are going to be able to move ahead with a huge morale booster," Hahn said after the council vote.
The plan approved Friday will not cost the city additional money, the mayor promised, adding that it may actually save money by reducing the overtime hours currently accrued by officers at the end of eight-hour shifts.
Police Union Chief Says Streets Will Be Safer
Union President Mitzi Grasso said the council action will translate into safer streets.
"This is one of the most significant steps taken toward improving morale in the rank and file," she said. "This will prove to enhance public safety by increasing coverage."
To make sure the compressed schedule does not cost more, the union had to agree to some concessions. For example, officers will work four extra hours each 28-day deployment period without an increase in salary. They also accepted a reduction in holiday hours provided to officers working the longer shifts.
The council vote was 10 to 3, with Mark Ridley-Thomas, Jan Perry and Nate Holden opposing the schedule because of concerns that it will lead to officer fatigue and additional costs and has not been proved to reduce crime.
"I have substantial reservations about the efficacy of this plan as it relates to public safety, as it was sold," Ridley-Thomas said. "I do not expect it will reduce violent crime."
Perry said she was not given sufficient explanation for why the Central Division in her district was selected to be first.
She voiced concern that a dramatic change in police deployment could hurt the division's ability to deal with its unique population, which includes most of the city's homeless on skid row.
Holden objected that the plan was being rushed through without sufficient public input and before a $150,000 study commissioned by the council could be completed.
The study is examining how compressed work schedules affect crime, officer fatigue and departmental costs.
"I am not going to stand here and have something rammed down my throat," Holden said, warning that fatigued officers might end up making mistakes that would cost taxpayers in lawsuits.
Hahn Says Fatigue Shouldn't Be a Problem
The mayor disputed Holden's assertions.
"The best way to combat fatigue is give people enough time off from those high-stress jobs so they can recover and be rested and come back to work," Hahn said.
He disputed the claim that officers will take second jobs that will create problems with fatigue. He said city policy requires officers to get permission for outside employment, which should head off problems.
The union also agreed to a provision that will prohibit officers from engaging in outside employment during the 24 hours immediately preceding their assigned shift.
Still, the mayor supported a council-adopted motion that requires quarterly reports to the council on how the schedule affects crime rates, response times, community policing, officer supervision, attrition and overtime costs.