The Columbia Police Department is taking a second look at its 12- hour shift patrol schedule after continued officer complaints and new efficiency issues.
A committee of officers is examining ways to tweak the 12-hour shift system or scratch it for shorter hours, said patrol Lt. Shelley Jones. Some grumblings over the new shift schedule instituted in January 2010 have not gone away, but the more pressing reason for the examination is because there is a shortage of officers working Sundays and because the schedule causes a problem when officers must undergo training.
"We are trying to get a schedule for more officers to be available so when you pull officers" for training, "staffing on the streets would still be sufficient," she said.
Under the rotation, officers work eight-hour shifts every other Sunday instead of 12-hour shifts. That has created staffing issues on Sundays, which become apparent over time as officers respond to incidents that require backup.
Some officers last year were hesitant to buy into the new schedule after realizing how their personal lives might change. Moving from a 10-hour shift to a 12-hour shift for some officers means they will see their children less, depending on the shift they work, and running errands around town and gym workouts now must be squeezed into a long day.
The new shift least affected single officers with no children because it provided more days off.
The committee has formulated three alternate schedules -- eight hours; eight and 10 hours; and 10-hour shifts, Jones said. The alternatives were presented to Chief Ken Burton, who provided suggestions, and a final presentation will be made soon.
Burton said the root of the scheduling problem is a lack of officers, which is not going to increase in the near future.
Burton said he is open to alternatives, but he has two requirements: Alternatives cannot reduce the level of service currently provided to residents, and officer safety cannot be affected.
"I don't see how they are going to do it without adding police officers, and we are not adding police officers," he said. "I'm going to have to be convinced."
A survey of 62 officers conducted by the Columbia Police Officers Association indicated nearly half of the surveyed officers prefer a 10-hour shift, while the remaining half of them support different mixtures, Burton said.
"The bottom line is we have to provide police services 24 hours a day," he said.
A main component of increasing from 10- to 12-hour shifts was to place more officers on the streets during the days of the week and nighttime hours when calls for service peak. With more officers on the streets, the idea is that officers would stay in their beats more because they would not have to cross the city to answer calls for service.
The new schedule was imperative to implementing Burton's geographical policing model, which requires officers to stay in their beats.
The department recently has hired a number of new officers, but those additions do not address Columbia police's needs until they have completed training.
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This article was published on page A10 of the Saturday, October 22, 2011 edition of The Columbia Daily Tribune with the headline "Police revisit 12-hour patrol shifts: " Click here to Subscribe.