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LAPD's flextime dilemma

Officers love it, but study finds pitfalls in the 3-day workweek.

October 23, 2006|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Police Officer Joe Dewey protects and serves the residents of North Hollywood Division three days a week, 12 hours a day, which means more days decompressing aboard his boat at Lake Havasu.

Devonshire Division patrolman Stephen Knight, who has the same schedule, spends some of his extra days off on the soccer field, coaching his 8-year-old son's team, the Green Hawks.

"I love it. I love that I get to spend more days with my family," Knight said. "I can be there when my sons get home from school and help them with their homework. I'm recharged when I get back to work."

Five years after the Los Angeles Police Department adopted the so-called 3/12 schedule for a majority of its officers, the plan is hugely popular with the rank-and-file, who credit it with boosting morale and allowing them to get more done at work.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 24, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
Police flextime: An article in Monday's Section A about the Los Angeles Police Department's three-day, 12-hour workweek said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa did not support the schedule when he was a councilman. He did not support it while running unsuccessfully for mayor in 2001, two years before he was elected to the City Council.

But that gift to officers may have come at a price: A new city analysis has found that police are slower responding to emergency calls and overtime costs have increased; other agencies that have tried the plan also have found that their officers are less rested and effective, especially at the end of very long shifts.

The result presents a dilemma for a police department desperate to increase its ranks and maximize its effectiveness. To get rid of flexible work time could invite officers to leave or discourage new recruits; to keep it may undermine public safety and the city budget.

"Fatigue was always an issue," said Capt. Buddy Goldman, commanding officer of the West Hollywood station for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which dropped the 3/12 schedule there in March.

Goldman said the schedule made it hard for deputies to attend required training and make court appearances. Sometimes, deputies reported for duty exhausted from spending a day in court after a 12-hour shift.

"I would have to send them to the bunk room for a couple of hours," he said. "That is not the best use of your deputies."

A new study by L.A. City Administrative Officer Bill Fujioka found response times are longer, court overtime pay is up and some neighborhoods seem to be short-staffed since the LAPD moved to the 3/12 schedule.

The study is reigniting City Hall debate over the issue. Although the report makes no recommendations, a City Council committee that is expected to hold hearings on the report next month could suggest changes.

The flexible work schedule was phased in starting in November 2001 to fulfill a campaign promise by then-Mayor James K. Hahn. He won election that year with the backing of the Police Protective League, which pushed hard for the schedule.

Today, 70% of LAPD officers work a 3/12 shift, and most of the rest work four days a week, 10 hours a day. Officers on the 3/12 schedule work occasional extra shifts to raise their average weekly hours to 40.

Police Chief William J. Bratton said he believes there are other schedules that would work better, but they have to be weighed against the benefits this one provides in recruiting and retaining officers.

"It's not a system I'm defending. It was here before I got here. It's what I have to work with," he said.

"Going to some other type of shift might be a better operational shift, but if it precludes us from being able to attract sufficient recruits to staff those shifts, then we have created for ourselves a conundrum."

The city's study, however, found that the compressed work schedule may be having little or no effect on recruiting: The year before the new schedule started, 12,714 people took the test to become an LAPD officer; the number dropped to 5,545 last year.

Although many Southern California agencies, including Burbank, Santa Ana and Whittier, offer 3/12 schedules, only 15% of the LAPD's big-city counterparts use the plan, according to a survey last year by the national group Police Foundation.

The city study identifies some potential pitfalls. Among its findings:

* Monthly median response time for emergency calls increased from 5.5 minutes before the flexible scheduling to 6.4 minutes; median response time for less urgent calls went from 33 minutes to 44.2 minutes (Fujioka said other factors, including a policy change in what constitutes a high-priority call, may have affected the data).

* Traffic citations declined by 10.5%, while time spent on enforcement activities to reduce crime dropped by 13.5%.

* Arrests overall dropped by 10.3%; arrests for the most serious category of crimes decreased by 14.5%.

* Court overtime hours increased by 8.5%, adding more than $1 million annually in pay costs.

* Although overtime hours added to an officer's shift decreased by 4.4%, sick-time hours off increased by 7.1%.

* The number of times officers had to move among the 19 police service areas to provide backup more than doubled.

"Frequent crossovers from one patrol area to another could indicate that areas do not have adequate staffing," the study states.

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