By Kelly Rayburn
Inside Bay Area
Sleep and changing shifts
OAKLAND, Calif. — A state arbitrator will render a decision this week on whether Police Chief Wayne Tucker can place Oakland Police officers on 12-hour shifts, with both police brass and union officials eagerly awaiting the outcome.
The two sides have locked horns on the issue for more than a year.
Tucker, backed by Mayor Ron Dellums, says the shift change is key to his plans to move the department to a geographic-centered model of policing. He also says it will get more officers on the streets during peak crime hours and cut down on officer overtime pay, which last year cost the city more than $24 million.
Oakland Police Officers Association President Bob Valladon says the proposal would force officers to work more hours with less pay. He said it would increase officer fatigue and slow response times. Union members opposed the proposal overwhelmingly, 427-11, when they voted on it, Valladon said.
"This is the biggest issue the Police Officers Association has been arguing against in the last 20 years, without question," he said.
The decision will come as the Police Department and the union brace for another showdown, this one over a new contract. Arbitration hearings on a new contract are scheduled to begin Dec. 4 and are expected to run into mid-January.
Hearings on the shift-change proposal wrapped up in October. Under the plan, patrol officers would work seven 12-hour shifts every two weeks, rather than four 10-hour shifts every week.
Jon Holtzman, the city's lead negotiator, would not venture a guess on whether the city would prevail in the shift-change arbitration, but did say, "I think we made an absolutely compelling case that this is not just important, but critical to geographic accountability."
Valladon said, "I think we definitely did a better job preparing and putting on a better case than they did on their side. I am confident we are going to win."
Oakland's crime rate leaves it as one of the most dangerous cities in the country, bringing near constant pressure to improve the city's law-enforcement strategies.
In July, the city released a Police Reform White Paper, authored by Tucker, Dellums and Assistant Chief Howard Jordan.
Quoted in the White Paper, Tucker said in order to reduce crime and improve accountability, "We must be willing and able to make changes — in staffing patterns, training, evaluation procedures, investigative procedures, assignments and policing techniques."
The White Paper acknowledged the department is understaffed, still well short of the 803-officer level for which it is authorized, but included two central recommendations to be implemented as the department conducted a recruitment campaign to reach its capacity.
The first was the change to the geographic-centered policing with captains overseeing three separate area commands in North and West Oakland, Central Oakland and East Oakland.
The second recommendation was the 12-hour shift plan.
The union struck back later in July with a paper of its own, saying the chief's plans, while pretending to be new and visionary, were little more than recycled policies that had failed in past years.
The union response was authored by Valladon and Michael Rains, an attorney for the police union who also represents former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds.
"For more than half a decade," the union paper said, "individuals who live and work in (Oakland) have been purposefully deceived by city and police department officials concerning the commitment of the Oakland Police Officers Association to prevent criminal activity which drives law abiding but terrified residents indoors, and drives our coveted businesses out of Oakland to other jurisdictions. The most recent deception by the city arises in the form of a seven-page document entitled 'Police Reform White Paper.'"
The response offered a point-by-point rebuttal, disputing that the shift-change would get more officers on the streets in high-crime hours and charging that it would leave officers overworked and fatigued, hurting public safety.
At the time, Tucker responded to the union's assertions, saying, "We want it to happen and they don't. They've got a very desirable shift and they want to maintain it, and right now it's not maintainable."
The two sides reached impasse. An arbitrator was selected and heard eight hours of testimony from each side over a two-day period last month.
The consequences are big for Dellums.
The mayor has staked a large part of his public-safety efforts on what his staffers often call "letting the chief be the chief."
"The mayor's office is supportive of the chief's ability to make deployment decisions, including determining the best shifts for effective policing," said Dellums spokesman Paul Rose. "We have been and are supportive of the chief's shift times."
It remains to be seen what effect this week's decision will have on the geographic policing model as well as the ongoing contract dispute.
Officer morale is another question.
"Morale's low already," Valladon said. Moving to 12-hour shifts, "would just make it lower — if it can go lower."
"I'm always concerned about morale whether (the decision) goes in our favor or doesn't go in our favor," he said.
But the chief is convinced his shift-change plan would lead to better and more efficient policing.
"I believe once we achieve that, morale will be enhanced," he said. "There's nothing like success to make people feel better."
Copyright 2007 Inside Bay Area
Ruling expected in disputed 12-hour officer shifts