Have you ever had this conversation?
Officer: Sarge, this schedule sucks. Can't we find another way to do it?
Sergeant: I've tried and tried. I haven't come up with anything that works for us that the Lieutenant and Captain will approve. You're welcome to try if you want.
Officer: Really? Okay. I can do that.
(Two weeks later)
Officer: (banging his head on the desk) There has to be a way!
If you've never had that conversation then consider yourself lucky. In jurisdictions all over the country there are big agencies which operate each district as individual smaller agencies, each with its own budget, standard operating procedures, schedules, command structure, etc. There are also the actual small agencies that try to do the best they can with what they have but what they have seems to be shrinking steadily in today's challenging financial times. What doesn't seem to change is just a few things:
- The officers have the same amount of work to do (or more) no matter what the budget or available manpower is;
- The officers, by and large, are motivated to do the best job they can and while they grumble about the conditions under which they work, they still work hard and do their best every shift;
- The officers would appreciate it if a better way could be found.
I was just recently contacted by such an officer. A veteran of law enforcement with about two decades of service, he's been tasked with finding a way - if he can - to set up a more palatable schedule for the officers in his district. In a previous agency he had worked what is commonly called a four-ten shift. On a 4-10, the officer works four days, ten hour shift each day. That allows the officers to have three days off each week. If done properly, it also allows for there to be shift overlap (because now you're scheduling 30 man hours per 24-hour day), which makes shift changes smoother. After all, if everyone in service goes out of service at a particular time, and everyone else coming on duty goes in service at that same time, there are bound to be those who are late, calls on hold, etc. If you have a five-man squad that's on duty from 0700 to 1700 and the evening shift working 1500 - 0100, then from 1500 - 1700 you have TEN officers available for calls.
Herein lies the rub: if the agency has assigned patrol cars that are shared between shifts, then the best a supervisor can hope for is that during shift overlaps the officers from different shifts are going to ride together. That means that the ending-shift officer has to make time to come to the station to pick up the starting-shift officer and they haggle who is going to drive. The worst case scenario is the starting-shift officers watch television in the squad room or talk on their cell phones for the first two hours of their shift, waiting for their assigned patrol vehicle to come available. The same thing happens again for the last two hours of the shift, leaving four hours per officer of spent labor time producing no service.
Some agencies are fortunate enough that every officer has an assigned take home patrol vehicle. In those agencies, when the shift overlap occurs, then the community benefits from having double the number of officers on patrol and responding to calls during the overlap time frame. Some side benefits are that it allows the squad supervisors (usually veteran sergeants) the ability to juggle scheduling needs, i.e. man power lost to court time, training, sick call, vacation, personal issues, etc.
So while we think about scheduling as quite a simple task, we see that it can easily be quite daunting when all of the other logistical considerations are thrown in the mix. Having been in the position of having to work out a schedule for a five-man squad to provide as close as possible to 24-hour-per-day coverage, I can vouch for how difficult it is when everything is taken into consideration.