WALLA WALLA - Sheriff's deputies will start 12-hour shifts next month under a new plan that promises more coverage, more days off with family and overall better morale.
"We are not committed to any one schedule. We just want something that works. And I think this is the best schedule for this," Sheriff John Turner said Friday, just before Walla Walla County commissioners voted unanimously to approve the amendment to their current contract with the Walla Walla Commissioned Deputies Associations.
The new schedule will begin Feb. 28.
Turner said the department would follow the Pitman Schedule, where deputies work two days, are off for two days, then work three, are off for two days, then work two days and are off three days.
The schedule works out to seven days off and seven days on over a two-week period.
The result is officers are schedule more hours over the same two-week period when compared to the standard 40-hour-week schedule.
A review of other law enforcement agency websites, association journals and officer forums found that both department heads and beat officers overwhelmingly favor the 12-hour shifts.
Turner's reasons for switching agreed with the benefits stated by other agencies and individual officers. These included increased morale, reduced sick leave, better coverage during critical hours and an overall scheduling that is fairer to officers and better for families.
"We haven't had a shift change in five months. As a result of that, I haven't had a day off with my wife for three months ... so just from the family standpoint it is better," said Sgt. Bob Clendaniel, who was at Friday's special commissioners meeting.
Turner added that 12-hour shifts will allow deputies to be scheduled during critical hours, as well as having deputies on duty 24 hours. Currently, no deputy is on duty roughly between 3-6 a.m., with the department utilizing an on-call system for early morning calls.
The new 12-hour schedule will see four teams of six deputies who will rotate shifts every eights weeks.
While not the norm, many departments across the nation have incorporated 12-hour shifts, including the Lincoln (Neb.) Police Department.
An article in Police Chief Magazine published in 2008 by Lincoln Police Capt. Jon Sundermeier substantiated the benfits Turner cited for 12-hour shifts. Sundermeier also noted the problems with the system, which included scheduling court appearances and higher overtime costs. Fatigue was not noted as a significant problem.
The article sited a survey of the Lincoln Police Department. In that survey, 100 percent of all responding officers who work 12-hour shifts said they were "able to perform all police functions."
Another 87 percent "disagreed" when asked if they had "ever become so tired during a shift that they were unable to function normally or safely."
And 82 percent of the officers said they felt very rested when returning to work from days off. The other 18 percent felt either somewhat rested or no difference.
As for overtime, the article noted three areas where 12-hour shifts resulted in increases in overtime.
The department saw a 38 percent drop in overtime taken as comp time, which resulted in officers getting paid for more hours.
The department also saw a 46 percent increase in overtime for court appearances, and a 51 percent increase in the amount of overtime paid to complete reports.
Turner was unavailable for comments as the details of the new schedule. But in his presentation to the commissioners, he noted the 12-hour shift change is on a trial basis for one year, and that staff or the deputies' union can change back to the current shift with 30-days notice.
Walla Walla Commissioned Deputies Association President Jeff Jackson said he could not comment on the change to 12-hour shifts, except to say "the association voted to go for it."