The Camden County Police Department has eliminated a mandate that patrol officers call in on their days off to see if they are needed at work.
The edict, which Chief Scott Thomson said was implemented in early July after an officer was shot at, caused some officers to complain of burnout and little rest time between shifts, which they said left them less alert in dealing with the public and responding to calls.
The requirement was ended on July 22, though “if an urgent operational need exists, it could be reinstated,” Dan Keashen, a Camden County spokesman, said Monday. “But not at this period of time.”
He said the mandate was stopped because “an urgent operational need was no longer necessary,” but did not elaborate. The police union said it had raised the call-in issue with management. Officers were paid overtime if they were told to come in.
The debate on work hours comes at a busy time for the county-run police department, which patrols only Camden City. Four people were shot between Friday and Sunday, one fatally. The department is also preparing for Pope Francis’ visit and the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in late September, during which no leave will be approved for officers.
Keashen said the requirement to call in only applied to officers in the patrol units, which primarily respond to radio calls. He said it did not apply to the neighborhood response team, which handles community outreach and has more officers than the patrol units.
Officers in the neighborhood response team, however, are still being told by supervisors to work overtime on some days off, even though they are not required to call in, one officer said. The officer spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak for the department.
Keashen said all requests for overtime are voluntary.
Lt. Bill Wiley, who heads the union for the rank-and-file, said in a July 31 email to members that the union had been talking to the administration about the “mandatory call-in/on-call status.”
“As most of you know we have been successful in eliminating this practice for our patrol division officers,” he wrote in the email, according to a copy provided by a union member. “We understand that our [neighborhood response team] officers are still required to adhere to this practice.”
He added, “I am confident that the Fraternal Order of Police will reach an amicable settlement of this issue with management.”
Wiley declined to comment when reached last week and did not return a call Monday.
Thomson said last month that off-duty officers in the patrol units were required to call in on a rotating schedule to ask their sergeants if they were needed to come in on overtime. Some officers blamed the requirement on personnel shortages and the department’s high turnover, with more than 100 officers having resigned or retired since it began hiring in January 2013.
Thomson said the turnover had had an effect but pointed to incidents such as the officer-involved shooting, and large events such as the San Juan Bautista parade, as times when more officers may be needed to work.