WALLA WALLA — The Walla Walla Police Department will begin operating under a new 12-hour shift schedule in January that Chief Scott Bieber hopes will save money.
Currently, the police department operates on an eight-hour, three shift rotation.
The move to longer work hours but fewer work days in a week could have several advantages, including better squad-level communication and more family time for officers.
According to Bieber, the planned 12-hour, four-shift schedule could also save as much as $23,000 yearly in overtime pay.
He said that each year the department is mandated to provide 40 hours of in-service training for each of its officers. In years past the department has conducted the training in 40-hour blocks over a month.
“When people were in training we were backfilling with overtime,” Bieber said.
Eric Knudson, president of the Walla Walla Police Officers Guild, said the new shifts will allow officers to do ongoing training throughout the year rather than in one big chunk of time.
The new shift schedule has been under consideration for nearly a decade, he said, but a real push to switch from the eight-hour shifts began just over a year ago.
“The Guild actually proposed (the 12-hour shifts) to the city,” Knudson said. “We’re pretty excited to see it go into place.”
In addition to potential cost savings, Knudson and Bieber lauded other aspects of the new schedule.
In the eight-hour shift rotation, each of the department’s three squads would have some members absent during any given workday, including the shift sergeants.
“The entire squad will work together all the time,” Knudson said of the new shifts, pointing out that may aid squad cohesion and communication throughout the department.
The eight-hour shift schedule also meant younger officers usually never saw a weekend off, according to Knudson, who said officers new to the department might work for three to five years without a weekend off.
“The 12-hour shift allows every officer to have rotating weekends off,” Knudson said. “A lot of these new officers have young families.”
Bieber agreed that allowing officers more quality time with their families was an important consideration.
“I think it’s going to give them an opportunity to have more days where they’re not doing cop stuff,” Bieber said.
Knudson said the Guild members voted in favor of the new shift by a significant margin.
Despite the strong support, some officers raised concerns about fatigue and the length of the schedule.
“Fatigue is always a factor,” Knudson agreed, but added that the new schedule will allow officers to settle into a routine, at least for four months at a time.
Every four months officers will have an opportunity to “bid” for a different shift, and every third bid will give younger officers reverse-seniority, according to Bieber and Knudson.
Knudson added the department has researched the new schedule exhaustively and spoken with a number of local and regional departments that have 10 and 12-hour shift schedules. He said other agencies found that shorter duration cycles were more difficult to adjust to. Knudson said some agencies change shifts every six weeks.
Knudson also said that officers won’t have to change shifts if they don’t want to.
“There’s no mandatory rotation,” Knudson said.
Despite the various benefits the department hopes to realize from the move to a new shift schedule, it may be only temporary.
Bieber said the department will try the new schedule for one year, starting in January, and then evaluate how the 12-hour shifts worked. If either the department’s administration or the guild decides to opt out of the new schedule, the department could return to the current eight-hour shift schedule.
“We’re hopeful everything works out and people like it,” Knudson said.