Thursday, August 05, 1999

Rotating shifts leave officers miffed


6 months later, most police still oppose system

BY JANET C. WETZEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIDDLETOWN — Six months after police officers were ordered to switch from fixed to rotating shifts, most still feel handcuffed by the change.

        “We took a vote at the lodge about three weeks ago, and 97 percent of the patrol officers there said they do not want to rotate shifts,” said Steve Winters, president of the 87-member Middletown Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).

        He said about 88 percent of patrol officers voted.

        “What I'm hearing constantly, they don't like it,” Officer Winters said. “It's an administrator's dream and an employee's nightmare.”

        Officer Winters said the FOP is preparing a report of the negative impact of the changes and an alternative proposal to present to Police Chief Bill Becker in about a month.

        Middletown Police Maj. Mark Hoffman, in charge of patrol, told city commissioners this week that despite some unhappy officers, the change has been effective from an administrative standpoint. And some younger officers say they are learning by being teamed with veteran counterparts, with some veterans saying they're “reinvigorated” by working with the newer offi cers, he said.

        “I know that some people will not be happy unless we go back to the way it was,” Maj. Hoffman said. “But that's not an option. We'll listen to other ideas, but we won't make any changes until next year — not in the middle of the year.”

        The dispute began late last year after Chief Becker announced he would adopt rotating shifts in early 1999. Instead of the nine-year method of personnel bidding on permanent schedules, they'd work three rotating shifts — chang ing every two months — regardless of seniority.

        Chief Becker said the goals were to help balance the senority and experience on the three shifts, balance time off and work load, enhance cooperation among department sections and reduce burnout. The change, which began Jan. 10, affected supervisors, officers, dispatchers and correction officers.

        Representatives of the other employees could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

        Initially, Officer Winters predicted the change would cause mental and physical distress in the staff, disrupt their family life, destroy morale and ultimately reduce efficiency.

        He said Wednesday those things have happened. He said figures are being compiled, but he's convinced shift changes have adversely affected officers.

        There is an increase in sick time and officer injury, and a drop in officer-initiated stops — a direct reflection of the officers being out of synch with their shifts, and their overall unhappiness with the changes, he said. Efficiency has not improved, and it has been reduced in some cases, Officer Winters said.

        Maj. Hoffman disagreed.

        “I don't know what sort of research he's done to base those assumptions on,” Maj. Hoffman said. Injuries are up over 1998, but that year was abnormally low, he said, and the 1999 rate through June is similar to past years.

        And the types of accidents don't appear to relate to officers being out of synch, he said. The increased sick time in early 1999 has leveled off to about average, he said.

        “And we've certainly balanced out the seniority on shifts — one of our No. 1 goals,” Maj. Hoffman said.

        Assistant City Manager Susan Davis said the shift changes appear to be working well administratively and have given the department more control over its resources.

        The goal of improving discretionary time — time not committed to calls for service or administrative details, which can be used for traffic enforcement, community contacts and quality-of-life issues, has improved by 3 percent overall.

        “I understand why individual officers feel it's hard on them — their personal life,” Maj. Hoffman said. “We've tried to make it the least disruptive possible by working with the union. I sincerely believe working rotating shifts will make better officers — enhance their professional lives. And we'll continue to work with them to lessen the impact on their personal lives.”

       



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