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The State

LAPD's flextime dilemma

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

October 23, 2006|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Reduced service is a major concern cited by Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who strongly opposed adopting the 3/12 schedule as police chief and now calls it "a major failure."

Community activists in South Los Angeles also dislike it.

Having officers off the beat four days a week is "one more thing that is keeping us from getting the police protection we need," said Hattie Babb, a member of the West Adams Neighborhood Council.

Donald Barnett, another critic of the schedule and president of the Vernon/Main Neighborhood Council, said he worries about the effectiveness of an officer worn out by long workdays.

"You don't get the police officer who is well-rested, who can think out a problem and resolve a problem," Barnett said.

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.

Initially, officials worried that fatigue problems could be compounded if officers used their extra days to work additional jobs. However, the number of work permits issued to LAPD employees for off-duty jobs has declined from 2,104 the year before the new schedule was adopted to 1,620 this year.

Bob Baker, president of the Police Protective League, said he does not hear complaints from officers about fatigue.

There are few studies on the fatigue effects of 3/12 shifts.

Bryan Vila, who has written a book on police fatigue, said 12-hour shifts do leave officers "impaired." Such shifts, he said, are workable, but only if police managers and officers work hard to curtail overtime and court time.

"Research repeatedly has linked sleep loss to poor decision-making, accidents and ill temper," said Vila, a criminal justice professor at Washington State University, Spokane.

Experts said there are specific indicators of whether fatigue is affecting officers.

But in Los Angeles, two key indicators -- traffic accidents and accidental shootings by officers -- are not pointing to trouble. Traffic accidents involving on-duty officers have declined from 999 the year before the compressed work schedule began to 774 last year. And the number of accidental shootings by officers was the same last year as the year before the 3/12 was adopted.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who did not support the switch to the 3/12 when he was a councilman, will wait to see what the council recommends, said spokesman Joe Ramallo.

But Baker, the police union president who helped negotiate the 3/12 schedule, said the city's 40% drop in crime in the last four years should be enough to silence critics of the schedule.

"It works. It's been effective. I would hope the former chief [Parks] would at least recognize that crime is down," Baker said, adding that concerns about court overtime hours can be addressed with better cooperation from the courts in scheduling officers' appearances.

Any change in work shifts would have to be negotiated with the union.

"If they did away with it," Baker said, "you would see a mass exodus of officers going to other agencies."

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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