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September 9, 2013

Oneonta's Police Department's 12-hour experiment to begin

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Oneonta patrol officers today will start working 12-hour instead of eight-hour shifts.

During a three-month trial, the Oneonta Police Department will study the efficiency of coverage, the impact on overtime spending and case management and the reaction of officers, among other factors, city and union officials said last week.

An advantage to the 12-hour shift plan is that officers would have more time off, union and city officials said, and the evaluation of the pilot will consider whether longer shifts result in fatigue that has a negative impact on coverage, productivity and performance of duties. 

“It’s something that I’m going to be watching,” Police Chief Dennis Nayor said.

The pilot in shift changes grew out of the city’s Police Department Task Force, which is studying staffing levels and other department issues. The scheduling experiment also is timely, union and city officials agreed, because the Police Benevolent Association’s contract with the city expires at year’s end.

Under the revised schedule, three patrol officers will work each shift, Lt. Douglas Brenner said, and the shifts will be from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Officers will work two days, then have three days off.

“It affords more time off,” Eric Berger, a detective and PBA president, said. “With younger officers and the younger generation, time off is becoming more important.”

The patrol division is composed of younger officers starting their careers. The average age of PBA members, including detectives, is 29, with an average 4.5 years of service, Nayor said.

Kathy Wolverton, city personnel director, said the average salary of the 12 patrol officers is $45,000. The contractual starting salary of an officer yet to attend a police academy is $37,000 annually, she said.

The task force, in studying how much of a police force Oneonta needs and can afford, identified a 12-hour-shift schedule among measures to consider in recruiting candidates and to improve retention among young officers, Mayor Dick Miller said.

“It’s exactly the kind of thing that we want to come out of the task force,” Miller said.

Nayor said officers who left the department this year had opportunities to earn more money, be closer to their hometown or other reasons that didn’t include dissatisfaction with working in the department.

REBUILDING

The Oneonta Police Department continues to reinvent itself. 

Nayor was sworn in as police chief April 29, 2012. He took the reins from an interim chief hired after the department wrestled with separate cases charging police brutality and on-duty patrol officers allegedly involved in a sex scandal.

Nayor, who started with the department 19 years ago and moved up the ranks, has been emphatic that only top quality candidates will be hired to be Oneonta police. He continues to work on policies toward certification of the department by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, a program with 132 standards in categories such as administration, training and operations.

STAFFING LEVELS

The Oneonta Police Department is authorized for 27 positions, ranging from patrol officers to chief. The Common Council last year cut the department’s authorization by one position to save money, and the mayor formed a task force to consider the department’s future. 

The department now has 12 patrol officers, plus two recruits in training, four patrol sergeants, three detectives, a detective sergeant, a lieutenant and a chief.

The department has two vacancies for patrol officers, Nayor said. Successful applicants for the department must be of excellent moral character, physically fit and psychologically sound.

The city will have a Civil Service Commission exam for police officers on Nov. 16, the city website said, and applications must be postmarked or received by city officials by 4 p.m. Oct. 11.

The 12-hour trial period applies to patrol officers but not to detectives, who are PBA members, or sergeants, who have a separate union.

Since at least 2008, the union has suggested switching to 10- or 12-hour shifts, Berger said, and with the PBA contract expiring at the end of the year, now is a good time to test a change.

Ten-hour shifts were considered but wouldn’t work with the staffing and needs of the department, Berger and Nayor said.

Officers aren’t allowed to work more than 16 hours, Berger said.

FATIGUE FACTOR

Brenner said the department and officers are aware about possible fatigue after working for eight hours, in both instances of working double eight-hour shifts and 12-hour shifts. The question will be evaluated, he said.

Brenner said a general cycle reflects that the department is busiest between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. and during rush hours at the start and end of the business day.

State police have worked 12-hour shifts since 2003, officials said, and previously, troopers worked eight-hour shifts.

“You get used to working a longer shift,” Trooper Nathan Riegal, public information officer with Troop C in Sidney, said.

The shifts are from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. or from noon to midnight, Riegal, said. The work schedule starts Monday and is two days on, two days off, then three days on, he said, and the schedule reverses the next week.

The health and safety of troopers and providing adequate coverage around-the-clock are among many factors considered when scheduling, Darcy Wells, director of public information for state police, said.

BUDGET

Nayor said he will assess the impact of the 12-hour shift on factors including budgeting and overtime.

The Oneonta Police Department Budget in 2013 was $3,169,710, of which $180,000, or 5.68 percent, is earmarked for overtime, Nayor said. The department’s 2012 budget was $3,322,981, including $198,000, or 5.96 percent, for overtime.

Nayor said he and other department heads are preparing 2014 budget requests that are smaller. The Common Council is in early stages of developing next year’s budget.

Nayor said overtime covers a range of demands. Overtime applies not only when an officer stays beyond the end of a shift, he said, but also to work at special events, transport prisons, appear in court and to cover when colleagues call in sick.

A goal of the 12-hour shifts is that overtime would decrease.

“Overtime is something that we work very diligently to control,” Nayor said.

With almost 50 percent of the overtime budget remaining for this year, the department has done a good job managing overtime, he said, though autumn is among busiest times because students have returned for college. Remaining overtime funds are turned over to the city’s general fund, he said. 

PAY DIFFERENTIALS, OVERTIME

Under the eight-hour structure, officers worked one of three shifts — 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; 4 p.m. to midnight’ or midnight to 8 a.m. Officers worked five days on, then had two days off, Brenner said.

Berger said under the 12-hour schedule, officers’ 84-hour pay period will include four hours of overtime. Under the current 80-hour pay period, officers generally accrue some overtime but it isn’t “automatic,” he said.

Shift-differential pay also has been adjusted so that officers working the 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. shift will receive an extra 75 cents an hour, Berger said. Under the current plan, the differential is 50 cents an hour for the 4 p.m. to midnight shift and 75 cents an hour for the midnight to 8 a.m. shift.

READY FOR THE EXPERIMENT

Union members approved trying the 12-hour shift schedule by a majority vote, Berger said. The city of Oneonta and the PBA must both be in favor of 12-hour shifts if the plan is to be made permanent, he said.

Nayor said the union feedback is important because officers’ attitudes toward the schedule impact their productivity and job satisfaction. Nayor said he hasn’t formed an opinion about the 12-hour shift.

“I’m really very neutral on it,” Nayor said. “I’m not an opponent. I’m not a proponent.”

The formal evaluation will begin about the end of November, Nayor said.

Officers prepared and were looking forward trying the 12-hour shift schedule, Berger said.

“We’re happy to be offered an option to do a trial period,” Berger said.