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No blues about 12-hour shifts

| Friday, Jan. 5, 2001

Moon Township police Office Reg Humbert is succinct when describing the department's first year with a work schedule based on 12-hour shifts - 'No problems, major improvements.'

Humbert proposed the new work schedule four years ago after having read books and law-enforcement journal articles on the subject. He also received about 30 responses from a survey that he placed on the Internet.

All the survey responses were positive, Humbert said, and 'they encouraged us to keep going after this.'

Humbert was president of the Moon Township Police Officers Association when he proposed the change.

During his 13 years on the force, he said, officers asked each other every time they negotiated a new contract: 'What are we going to do about our schedule?'

The 24 officers now on the force are split into four, six-officer crews.

'Without a doubt, a majority of the officers enjoy it,' said Capt. Leo McCarthy, who is responsible for scheduling. 'There will be some, no matter what, who don't like a 12-hour shift.'

McCarthy said he is seeing a slight reduction in sick time, which he attributes to officers having a reduction in stress.

'The fatigue factor has decreased,' Humbert agreed. 'Officers are in better humor, better rested and less likely to take sick days.'

Less stress comes from changing between only two shifts, instead of among three, and having 80 more days off yearly, McCarthy explained.

Because officers have more days off, McCarthy said he has more people available to work overtime shifts.

Under the old schedule, Humbert said, officers received a weekend off once every nine weeks. Now, they get every other Friday, Saturday and Sunday off.

Under the schedule, officers in the first week of a month work shifts from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for two days, then two days off, then three days on the same shift. Officers in the second week change to the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift and reverse the pattern, beginning with two days off, working two days and having three days off.

During the third week, officers stay on the same shift but reverse the workdays and days-off pattern. In the fourth week, officers work the reverse pattern of the first week.

The result is that officers change shifts only twice a month, instead of every week.

'Output looks exactly the same,' McCarthy said, attributing a spike in productivity since last April to the hiring of four aggressive, young officers.

McCarthy said the new schedule is easier for him as well.

'I can fill shifts a week in advance,' he said. 'It takes about 10 minutes.'

Usually staffing is difficult during the end-of-the-year holiday season, but McCarthy said it was 'easier than I've seen in years' in finding officers to cover shifts for those on vacation.

'I can't think of any way it increased our spending,' McCarthy said about costs.

McCarthy said he believes the new schedule has brought 'a moderate savings' in overtime costs incurred when he has to cover the shift of an officer who is in court.

He previously would hold an officer over from the night shift for four hours. Then, if the officer had not returned from court, McCarthy would call another officer for the remaining four hours. The officer then would return from court in five hours, and McCarthy would have an extra officer for the shift's remaining three hours.

Under the new shift, an officer is called in for a six-hour overtime shift.

McCarthy said an officer almost always is back from court in fewer than six hours.

Although statistics are not kept, Humbert said the 12-hour shift is 'not rare but not yet commonplace.' He said he believes there may be just three departments in Pennsylvania running a 12-hour shift.

During the past year, Humbert said, the Moon police have received about 25 requests for information about the 12-hour shift from departments in the Tri-state area.

Howard McClellan can be reached at hmcclellan@tribweb.com or at (412) 306-4536.

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