Brownsville police start 4/10s

BROWNSVILLE, TX &#8211 The Brownsville police department has shifted its patrol division to a new work schedule that increases the hours in the workday but then gives the officers a three-day weekend – a move officials say cuts down on overtime costs and increases police presence on the street.

In mid-January, the department switched from scheduling patrol officers to work eight hours a day, five days a week to 10 hours a day for four days of the week.

Brownsville Police Commander James Paschall said the “four-ten” plan alters the schedule so that the shifts now overlap, allowing officers to usually leave for the day after their scheduled 10-hour shift. Before, when working in non-overlapping shifts, officers often put in overtime to tie up reports related to calls late in the shift.

“This seems to work,” Paschall said.

In the first two weeks it was implemented, the schedule cut costs by 60 percent, he said.

The change now schedules patrol officers in four shifts that overlap, rather than three shifts stacked back to back, which Paschall said increases the number of officers on the streets during the busiest hours for policing, much needed for the force which he said is stretched thin with budget constraints due to the struggling economy.

“We just have to learn to manage the personnel we have,” he said. “There is no way we can afford to hire more officers.”

With financial and health concerns in mind, a committee within the department began researching different schedules last year, visiting the police departments of Waco, Killeen, Victoria and other similarly-sized cities that implemented alternative schedules.

Paschall said the department considered two alternatives: the four-ten plan that it eventually used and a schedule in which officers worked 12-hour days three to four days a week.

Concerned with fatigue, Paschall said the committee ruled out the 12-hour day.

“But officers were already putting in 10 hours with holdover calls so it’s not much of a change,” Paschall said.

Experts said while sleep and a lack of fatigue is crucial to officers’ performance on the job, a switch from an eight-hour shift to a 10-hour shift likely wouldn’t impact officers’ health. Most officers interviewed said the extra weekend day allowed them to catch up on sleep and spend more time with family.

Ben Brown, a criminal justice professor at the University of Texas at Brownsville, referenced a federally-funded study completed in January that indicates police forces are increasingly moving away from the traditional 8-hour shift in favor of 10 to 12-hour shifts.

In 2009, 29 percent of departments sampled scheduled officers in 8-hour shifts, down from 40 percent in 2005.

The study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, examined the effect of shift length on police performance and health and found that different shifts did not significantly affect officers’ health, safety and performance.

However, the study did conclude that officers working the 10-hour shifts reported higher quality of life than those working eight or 12-hour shifts.

Dr. Lorenzo Pelly, a local doctor of internal medicine who studies sleep disorders, said professionals who work jobs that require periodically alternating day and night shifts are at high risk for sleep disorders, but said a change between an eight, 10 or 12-hour shift likely wouldn’t make a difference in someone’s sleep cycle.

“It might be an adaptation,” Pelly said. “While they adapt it is recommended that they take a 20-minute nap before working a night shift.”

In the beginning, Paschall said the department met resistance from officers about the change, most citing a concern about the longer workday. He said some also grew accustomed to receiving overtime pay, which has lessened.

The change was made in the patrol division, which is comprised of 120 officers and supervisors, though Paschall said the department is looking into implementing the new schedule in other divisions.

Brownsville police Sgt. Orlando Chavez said his new schedule allows him to spend an extra day off each week with his family, though he said it took time for the officers to adjust to the longer day.

“My wife stays at home,” Chavez said. “So for me personally a whole day off is good.”

Officer Cecilia Casanova said once she adjusted to the longer day, she grew to love the three-day weekends as they allowed her to come back to work for the week refreshed.

“Actually, the three days are awesome,” she said.

Officer Raul Cazares said the most difficult part of transition to the new schedule was getting used to the possibility of working an extra graveyard shift. Under the previous schedule, he said, officers could be scheduled every six weeks for one of three shifts, and two were mostly during daylight hours. Now with four potential shifts, two span throughout the night, he said.

Yet he said the longer weekend helps him stay alert.

Lt. Juan Hernandez said the new schedule offers added officers during busy hours, though sometimes leaves the patrol division stretched thin at certain hours.

“I like it. It’s giving us added manpower during peak hours,” he said.

From The Brownsville Herald.

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