By Sue Botos
After receiving feedback from patrolmen and officers, City Council is expected to give the green light to legislation that will amend the collective bargaining agreement with the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and allow the police department to switch from eight- to 12-hour shifts.
Police Chief Kelly Stillman told council at its legislative session last week that 80 percent of his division supported the move, which calls for two permanent shifts per 24-hour period instead of the current rotation of three eight-hour shifts each day. “I found nothing to go against 12- hour shifts,” he said.
Shortly after becoming chief in 2011, Stillman said he selected a committee of two officers and two patrolmen to study the work-day change. He said that while the possibility of 12-hour shifts had been discussed previously, the past administration was not as receptive to the idea as he was.
“This has taken quite a long time; we’ve extensively worked on this,” said Stillman, adding that, responding to the requests of a number of department members, he approached Mayor Pam Bobst and Law Director Andy Bemer. Bemer’s input was necessary due to the amending of the collective bargaining agreement.
Bobst said that the portion of the amendment dealing with shift differential must still be discussed behind closed doors. The legislation calls for an additional hourly compensation of 40 cents per hour for those working the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. period.
The proposal, according to Stillman, meets his three criteria for any new idea, these being, benefits to the city, residents and the police department.
Because of the current setup, Stillman said that the city pays $23,000 in overtime each year. Fewer shift changes during the day would add up to a savings of $12,000 to the city.
He added that this would be a “win-win” for residents, who would not have to contend with a 3 p.m. shift change when schools are dismissing for the day. “We’ll be better able to patrol the city during maximum times. There will be no lull in response,” he stated.
“We’re anxiously looking forward to the change. Studies have shown that it reduces overtime and sick time,” continued Stillman, who recalled his 13 years as a department supervisor. He said patrolmen work for 10 straight days, and then get four off. “It wears and tears at you,” he said, adding that work times could only be switched with those on the same shift. This could result in an officer working 20 days in a row.
In anticipation of council’s passing the measure, Stillman said 12-hour shifts have already been assigned, with every employee except one receiving their choice. The “platoons” will consist of two day shifts and two night shifts of six officers, each headed by a sergeant. Three lieutenants will round out the force.
Responding to Ward 3 Councilman Michael O’Donnell’s question about addressing the shift issue during fall arbitration, Stillman stated, “This is something we can utilize in whatever fashion we need to. I’d rather not use this as a chip to get something from the unions.”
Bobst stated that safety of the city will be the foremost concern. “We can move ahead with a lower complement for the 12-hour shifts,” she said, referring to the two officers who have not been replaced due to financial reasons.
Other issues such as supervision, placement of “skill staffing” (such as the K-9 and motorcycle units) and training still have to be considered. According to the legislation, each patrolman and officer will be scheduled for two eight-hour training shifts every 28 days.
“Do we know what will work perfectly? We have a fair amount of confidence in that,” said Bobst.
Stillman said that the feedback from departments that have gone to 12-hour shifts has been overwhelmingly positive. He added that while 10-hour days have worked well in Cleveland, this would not be possible due to personnel numbers.
Resident Bill Walsh urged council to act on the measure as quickly as possible. “Don’t drag your feet on this,” he stated, adding that the 40-cent shift differential was common practice. “It’s not that much money when it comes to the safety of the city.”