The Little Rock Police Department plans to move patrol officers from eight-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts next year to keep more officers on the streets and reduce overtime expenses.
Police Chief Kenton Buckner on Thursday described the schedule change, set to take effect Jan. 1, as a way to stretch the department's limited manpower as it continues to fight a rise in crime.
The plan calls for officers to work longer shifts during a traditional 80-hour, two-week pay period. Officers will have more days off under the plan, but the extended shifts will ensure a constant police presence on the streets, according to the department.
"With the 12-hour shifts, it's a shift many agencies have went to for uniform protocol when you have limited resources," Buckner said. "It increases the number of uniform officers on the street during our working hours."
The Little Rock Police Department is authorized to have 590 officers, but its job vacancies in those positions have hovered around 60 for several years.
The new schedule is a twist on mandatory overtime patrols that the department implemented in August. The department began requiring 45 officers per day -- 15 each from the downtown, northwest and southwest patrol divisions -- to work four additional hours in high-crime areas.
The increased patrols have coincided with a drop in homicides and shootings in the city, but the overtime is expensive. The city has estimated that the overtime costs about $10,000 per day.
Speaking to city board members at a budget meeting Thursday, Buckner said the department has exhausted its overtime funds, which account for about $2 million of the department's $71.6 million annual operating budget. Because of that, he said, the department may soon reduce the number of officers working overtime patrols to 30.
"I don't have any money left, and we're in October," Buckner said. "We busted our budget as far as overtime is concerned. The problem that we have, although we feel we certainly have had measurable impact with [overtime patrols], it was never our intent to do that long-term."
Little Rock's department isn't the first law enforcement agency to rework its schedule to stretch its resources and save money. Baltimore police reportedly switched to 12-hour shifts in June in response to an increase in violent crime in that city. The Louisville Police Department in Kentucky moved officers from eight-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts last year, citing similar public-safety concerns.
Agencies in Michigan, Utah and California also have extended officer shifts.
But the longer shifts have in some cases caused unexpected consequences.
In Conway, the Police Department switched to 12-hour shifts in 2009 and reportedly stopped allowing officers to take police vehicles home because the vehicles were needed on the streets and the department didn't have money to buy more.
Also, the longer hours have raised questions about officer fatigue. A federally funded study by the Police Foundation, a national law enforcement research group, found in 2012 that officers who worked 12-hour shifts reported "greater levels of sleepiness and lower levels of alertness at work" than officers who worked eight-hour shifts.
"In addition, past research has shown increased risks for accidents with increasing number of hours worked," the group reported. "Consequently, caution should be exercised when agency executives consider adopting 12-hour shifts."
The study, which examined the schedules of 275 officers from police departments in Detroit and Arlington, Texas, found that the lawmen slept better, performed better at work and reported a higher quality of life under 10-hour shifts than any other schedule. They also worked fewer overtime hours.
The Pulaski County sheriff's office said it has seen such benefits under 12-hour shifts. Agency spokesman Lt. Cody Burk said the sheriff's office changed its schedule about four years ago, and deputies have enjoyed the additional days off.
"That's one of the main benefits when they think about working here," he said.
But a shift in the county is different from a shift in the city.
Officer John Gilchrist, president of the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police, said he expects many officers to raise concerns about fatigue and how the new hours will affect their personal lives. But, he said, he thinks those officers will eventually come to like the new schedule.
"The two things I hear the most complaints about is: my off-duty job and my child care, my family life," Gilchrist said. "Both of those are intelligent arguments. But in reply to that, once they find the mechanism that's going to work for them and they become accustomed to that, all things work out."
Under the traditional schedule, Little Rock patrol officers work about 20 days per month, according to the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police. Officers will work 14 days a month under the new schedule.
"It won't mean any more hours in a two-week shift," Gilchrist said. "It'll mean longer hours and more days off."
Little Rock police spokesman Lt. Steve McClanahan said it's the first time in his 22 years with the department that 12-hour shifts have been implemented. He said 12-hour shifts have been mandated during natural disasters and large-scale emergencies, but they were temporary.
Mayor Mark Stodola on Thursday asked whether the Police Department needs to hire more officers before implementing the 12-hour shifts. There are 26 recruits training to join the department. The 51 job vacancies will be cut in half if all 26 graduate.
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Buckner said he can start the new shifts with the department's current workforce.
"We need to be able to sustain the same kind of footprint we have with the mandatory overtime shift," he said. "Twelve-hour shifts will allow us to do that with regular personnel."
Metro on 10/13/2017