Wednesday, September 19, 2001
Police Commission Adopts Principle of Flexible Work Schedule for Officers
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
The Police Commission yesterday unanimously agreed to implement a flexible work schedule for the Los Angeles Police Department, but stopped short of approving Mayor James Hahn’s hybrid plan that mixes 10- and 12-hour shifts with traditional 8-hour shifts.
Police Commission President Rick Caruso said the continued loss of officers to other departments is too urgent to put off any longer and asked for the police chief’s office to review the mayor’s plan over the next couple days.
“Let’s get something implemented that we can start rolling out,” Caruso said. “It’s worked in the past, it can work in the future.”
“I believe the city is facing a public safety crisis,” Hahn said. “We do not have enough officers out on our streets today.”
Hahn said he believes the plan will help to correct the department’s recruitment, retention and morale problems which have led to nearly 1,200 officer vacancies.
Cpt. Mike Downing, commanding officer of Hollywood division, said his area alone has lost 24 officers to other Southern California agencies since Nov. 1999.
“I think we need to stop studying, stop talking and I think we need to start acting,” Hahn said.
Hahn recommended the plan to be implemented in two divisions, Hollywood and Central, by Oct. 20. He also set a goal of Dec. 2002 to have the plan implemented in all 18 divisions.
“The eight-hour shift is a straight jacket and we need to shed that straight jacket,” Hahn said.
Each area will be able to tailor the flexible work schedule to its specific needs, he said.
Under the proposed plan, Central would use four patrol shifts with one 12-hour, two ten-hour, and one eight-hour shift. Hollywood, on the other hand, would use five distinct shifts with a different combination of schedules.
Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said the wide array of possible schedules could cause problems in payroll accounting and leave the city vulnerable to lawsuits.
Miscikowski reminded the commission that the city was forced to settle a $40 million lawsuit just two years ago for failing to pay their officers overtime in a timely manner.
“If each division is supposed have their own sets of shifts, it’s going to be quite chaotic and quite difficult for a payroll system to keep it straight,” Miscikowski said, adding that she would like input from the city’s financial officers.
Miscikowski, along with council members Nate Holden and Mark Ridley-Thomas, protested a rushed implementation of the plan and encouraged the commission to wait for a council-ordered report on a flexible work schedule before making a decision.
The report, with a $150,000 price tag, is due to be completed Nov. 10.
“I suggest that we act in a prudent, deliberate, and responsible manner,” Ridley-Thomas said.
But Hahn said there will always be another report that can be done and the time to implement the program is now.
“I think we will be able to learn from real world experience instead,” Hahn said.
Police Chief Bernard Parks was forced to leave the hearing to deal with bomb scares at the Central Courthouse and LAX and did not comment on the plan.
Parks had publicly opposed a compressed work schedule in the past and only recently said he will implement the plan if directed to do so by the commission.
Hahn said if the plan is approved, Parks will implement it.
“I don’t think we have a choice,” Hahn said. “I think we have to move forward on this or we will continue to lose officers.”
Los Angeles Police Protective League President Mitzi Grasso applauded the plan, saying it “far exceeds” the expectation of the union.
“This is an opportunity to increase our coverage and enhance public safety,” Grasso told the commission, adding that any potential problems could be overcome.
Hahn won the crucial endorsement of the police union during his recent mayoral campaign in part by agreeing to implement a compressed work schedule for the department.
The mayor’s office studied how the flexible work schedule in place at the Santa Ana Police Department as a springboard for designing a plan for the LAPD.
Santa Ana went to 12-hour shifts in 1993 and since then the department has seen significant decreases in citizen complaints, use of force, civil complaints, at-fault accidents and officer related shootings, Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters said.
An informal survey conducted by the department indicated only 3 percent of the officers would prefer to work a traditional work week, he said.
“It takes them about three months to adjust and after that they would never work anything else,” Walters said.
After five and a half years on the LAPD, Officer Sandra Kim left the department in May to go to Santa Ana, even though the move would mean taking a demotion from sergeant.
“Santa Ana had a better benefit package, better salary, better pension, and a compressed work schedule, and that was the main factor,” Kim said.
“With the ‘3-12’ I spend more time with my family and friends,” she said. “And it gives you time to recover.”
Kim said a major problem with the LAPD’s current schedule is officers must bid for days off, something she said can result in an officer working 10 days straight without a day off.
Under Hahn’s plan, officers assigned to the 12-hour shifts would have set days off, while officers on the 8- and 10-hour shifts would bid for days off, as officers currently do.
Kim said if the LAPD would have gone to a compressed work schedule earlier she would not have left the department.
The commission will consider the matter next week.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company