By Sue Botos
In an effort to ease the strain of shift work as well as save money, the city police department will pilot a program where officers’ work days will be divided into two 12-hour shifts rather than the current three 8-hour shifts over a 24-hour period.
The new shifts will be permanent assignments as opposed to the current setup, which rotates on a monthly basis.
Mayor Pam Bobst has announced the city is waiting for final input from police officers and patrolmen before making the change, which, she said, was first discussed during recent collective bargaining.
No action was taken at the time, but police Chief Kelly Stillman said that when he took office last year, he appointed a group of patrolmen and officers to consider the issue.
“The department has been trying to do this for years, and I wanted to be responsive to the needs and wishes of the (police) and the community,” Stillman said in a recent interview. He said that while the 12-hour setup is optimal, when he joined the force in 1984, the assignments changed every two weeks. In the 1990s, this changed to the present monthly rotation.
Stillman noted that other cities, such as Lakewood, Solon, Warrensville Heights and Shaker Heights, have had success with 12-hour work schedules for their police.
“They show less sick time, and less overtime,” said Stillman, referring to the health benefits of the permanent shifts. Studies have shown that rotating shift workers have a difficult time adjusting to frequent changes in routine, and can suffer more chronic medical conditions.
“This will be a fairly substantial cost savings,” Stillman said, adding that there would be less overtime paid to officers and patrolmen called in to substitute for those unable to work a certain shift.
Law Director Andrew Bemer said that this cost saving, along with efficiency of operation, is the main focus of the program. He said the pilot program is expected to last for one year, and then will be reviewed by the administration. After that, it will be determined whether the plan will be negotiated as part of the next collective bargaining agreement.
The issue is being presented in written form, according to Bemer, because it affects some conditions of employment.
Stillman said this composition will eliminate one lieutenant position, after the retirement of Lt. Carl Gulas, and add one sergeant. Two day shifts and two night shifts with six men each, headed by a sergeant, are planned. Three lieutenants and a detective sergeant will round out the division. Stillman said no jobs will be cut, and that his department is actually running two patrolmen short due to city budget cuts. Both Stillman and Bemer said they would like to see the program in place by April 9.
“At any time, we can go back to the old system,” Bobst emphasized. “The reasons for pursuing this plan are first, the safety of the community, but also to cut costs and streamline operations,” she added. She urged City Council to review the preliminary documents before the actual legislation is presented.