The new software has enabled the Peoria PD to automate and standardize scheduling practices throughout the agency, Larson says. He ticks off just a few of the benefits the transition has brought, in addition to the ability to create schedules in a matter of seconds:
- Each shift can tailor its schedule to the personnel's specific needs, but the format is constant across the organization.
- The ability exists to query the data and produce a variety of reports previously unavailable. For example, Larson's department can track any change made to a schedule and identify who made the change and when, and thus be able to hold accountable anyone who alters a schedule. In addition, managers can "red flag" potential abuses of leave time or sick time and produce corroborating documentation.
- Adjustments made to predetermined shift strengths are signaled by a screen color change, providing a visual cue to indicate adequate or inadequate staffing.
- Last-minute changes are made in seconds and are noted in real time.
- Officers and employees can log onto the system to check schedules, request leave time or overtime, and verify if such requests have been approved or denied. Essentially, scheduling software enables law enforcement agencies to eliminate some pressing concerns, explains Bob Schoenkopf, a former California police department administrator and now senior project manager for InTime Solutions Inc., a developer of software and service solutions with headquarters in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
"In my years of experience working within police departments, there are three main questions that law enforcement senior administrators ask all the time," says Schoenkopf. "Where are my people? Why am I spending so much on overtime? And, do I have the right people in the right place at the right time? All of these relate to budgeting, the allocation of people and, overall, delivering a well-managed, quality public service through the proper assignment of scarce budgetary and people resources. The challenge comes down to improving protective service levels to the public."
These tools help agencies deal effectively with increasing pressure to be accountable for expenditures and employee levels, say software manufacturers. Larson cites that as one reason he believes every agency, regardless of size, should explore the possibility of purchasing scheduling software, despite any financial constraints.
"Scheduling software for law enforcement comes in a variety of costs and complexities," he says. "Agencies with limited resources can obtain scheduling software for a fraction of the cost of the high-end programs with all the bells and whistles. The benefits of improved productivity and efficiency make purchasing software a cost-savings in the long run."
Still, Dick Chapman, owner of Shift Schedules, which markets, develops and sells Excel spreadsheets designed for law enforcement scheduling, points out that not every agency needs nor can some afford elaborate software programs. Further, agencies that may be unable to afford the software, Chapman explains, may lack the technological infrastructure or information technology (IT) staff required to support it. For such agencies, some of which may be taking an old-fashioned, write-it-on-a-calendar approach to scheduling, Excel spreadsheets offer a time-saving, organized solution, particularly because of the spreadsheets' expanded flexibilities. The beauty of the marketplace, says Chapman, is that there's no one-size-fits-all solution.
As far as training goes, spreadsheets lean toward being simple to learn and use — some would say incredibly simple — on any ease-of-use spectrum. Scheduling software programs, of course, will vary in their training requirements depending on design, but most reports indicate that the learning curve required hasn't proved to be unduly onerous. What can be challenging is getting people on board, says Jivasoft's Ryan.
"It does require quite a bit of effort, not to get started but to take advantage of the economies offered," he explains. "It involves changing the way people work. Every time you automate something that had previously been done with paper, it's work. There will always be people fighting it."