By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
City Attorney Jim Hahn may have locked up the mayoralty the day he embraced the L.A. Police Protective League’s (PPL) demand for a three-day week of 12-hour shifts. The police union‘s endorsement and its attack ads against ex-Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, who would not commit to the so-called 3-12 workweek, made Hahn credible as the “public safety” candidate and the safe choice for conservatives.
But is Hahn’s victory enough to lock in city approval of the compressed work schedule? While the mayor-to-be made a post-election pilgrimage to a PPL meeting in Palm Springs to promise 3-12 within three months, and last week extracted a reluctant assent from Chief Bernard Parks (a longtime doubter), it‘s not yet a done deal. The City Council’s approval is required, and several council members, including public-safety committee chair Cindy Miscikowski, harbor doubts about whether the new schedule would work during high-crime periods or undermine community policing.
However, the new council presents the PPL with a less daunting hurdle than the outgoing one. Newcomer Janice Hahn is hardly likely to break with brother Jim on his top agenda item. Skeptics Mike Feuer and Jackie Goldberg are out; the latter‘s replacement, Eric Garcetti, leans strongly toward 3-12 as a recruitment and retention incentive. Tough-minded Councilwoman (now city controller) Laura Chick, no pushover for the police viewpoint, has been replaced by Dennis Zine, a member of the PPL board of directors. Newcomer Jan Perry says she is “skeptical but open to discussion,” an attitude shared by several holdover members. Mark Ridley-Thomas, for instance, fears that a compressed schedule may harm his crime-plagued district “by compromising deployment and the exercise of sound judgment by officers on patrol.”
Before the council acts, it will want to review a 60-day study by Police Management Consulting of San Diego; the contract was signed this week. Among topics the consultant will examine are how compressed schedules work in other police departments and possibly fatigue-related safety questions.
Without any exhaustive review of other forces’ experience, L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca has quietly approved possible expansion of its use in his department. When Baca signed off on 3-12 arrangements at the department‘s quarterly management conference last fall, he did have one long-running experiment to guide the decision -- a “pilot project” now in its seventh year at West Hollywood’s Sheriff‘s station. Patrol units there (119 sworn personnel) and 29 supporting civilians work either 6 a.m.--6 p.m. or 6 p.m.--6 a.m. shifts, though detectives and special-problems units handling such matters as vice, transients and surveillance put in four 10-hour stints.
Several audits showed that quality of service and arrest levels were maintained after the transition, says Captain Linda Castro, West Hollywood’s commander, and citations went up slightly. There was no sign, she adds, of any increase in sick calls or civilian complaints. “We looked at timing -- were complaints up at the end of shifts? We didn‘t see that.” However, Castro concedes, neither the frequency nor the timing of use-of-force incidents was examined.
This track record convinced Baca that other stations should be allowed to try 3-12, says Assistant Sheriff Dennis Dahlman, but only where it fits community needs, a decision left to station commanders. So far none has signed on to the program -- few of the areas served by the sheriff need the nocturnal policing of Sunset Strip or share the bars-per-block level of WeHo’s Santa Monica Boulevard.
But if Sheriff Baca‘s move was a big step forward for the three-day week, a retreat was signaled last month by Pasadena’s Police Chief Bernard Melekian, who expanded a on misgivings published recently in a public-safety newsletter. While conceding pluses (morale, time for school attendance), Melekian offered a longer list of drawbacks, including overtime, fatigue and communication lapses between personnel on different shifts. But his primary objection is subtler and less measurable: disengagement from the community and the “calling.”
Though 3-12 has been in place for all patrol officers (more than a third of the city‘s sworn personnel) since late 1993, the schedule “needs to be and will be revisited,” Melekian told the Weekly. “Our philosophy that community policing is everyone’s job” doesn‘t jibe with spending four days a week outside the city, he said. “If I could do it legally, I’d make [3-12] available only to officers who live in the city,” he said. Since that‘s not possible, the chief will soon be urging transition to a 4-10 regime. This may be an uphill battle. Once conceded, “You’ll never be able to take it away,” warns Captain Gordon Bowers of neighboring Burbank, where 3-12 was won at the bargaining table six years ago.
Union leaders in the Police Protective League say the compressed schedule and shorter workweek are the key to repairing the department‘s plummeting morale and reducing attrition on the force.
“We’re losing 58 officers a month, and only training 24,” says Detective Bob Baker, a PPL board member. But in weighing decisions on schedules, departments that have okayed 3-12 have given little systematic scrutiny to its safety for the public -- or for the officers themselves -- focusing primarily on productivity, budget impact and employee satisfaction. Scientists studying performance and fatigue in the workplace raise red flags over safety issues, suggesting that alertness, judgment and mood can deteriorate with extended hours, especially on long night shifts.