11/16/2007

Oakland, Calif. police get 12-hour shifts

By Kelly Rayburn
Contra Costa Times

OAKLAND, Calif. Oakland Police Department patrol officers will work 12-hour shifts under an arbitrator's decision released this week, in what Police Chief Wayne Tucker described as a key victory for public safety in Oakland.

Tucker was pitted against the Oakland Police Officers Association for more than a year on the issue. The union had hoped to stay on 10-hour shifts.

The two sides reached an impasse and argued the issue before Arbitrator Charles Askin in October.

In a 34-page ruling released on Monday, Askin concluded the 12-hour shift plan best served the welfare of Oakland residents.

"The City has identified inefficiencies in the current system," Askin wrote, adding, "It has proposed an alternative scheduling model that eliminates that inefficiency, provides additional work hours in the context of its undermanned staffing, will likely reduce the current reliance on overtime, and provide, at least marginally, a more efficient ratio of staffing to workload."

Tucker applauded the decision.

"I'm very pleased that the arbitrator was convinced of the wisdom of our argument," he said.

Tucker called the shift change crucial to his plan to implement a new model of geographic policing in Oakland designed to boost efficiency and area accountability.

Under that model, three police captains will oversee area commands in North and West Oakland, Central Oakland and East Oakland.

Both the 12-hour shifts and the new area command plan will go into effect in January, Tucker said.

Officers will work seven 12-hour shifts every two weeks, as opposed to four 10-hour shifts every week. The arbitrator's decision leaves little recourse if any for the union.

Police union attorney Michael Rains said, "We feel the arbitrator, in doing what he did, made a mistake. I think that will be proven over time."

At the same time, Rains acknowledged that state law is designed to make it very difficult to appeal these type of rulings.

He said appeals are an option in "very limited" scenarios and that any appeal would be "an uphill battle."

Union president Bob Valladon said officers were left with no option but to work the 12-hour shifts.

"We have to go to the plan that is going to bury the Oakland Police Department," he said.

Before the decision, Valladon said the shift-change proposal was the most important issue facing the union in 20 years.

"Guys are going to stress out," he said Monday. "They're going to get fatigued. They're going to get hurt ... it is the worst plan that any city could go to, especially the city of Oakland."

Valladon said officers will leave the department because of the new shift, and that it would also make recruiting more difficult.

Police brass said the 12-hour patrol shifts will make operations smoother since 12-hour shifts fit neatly into a 24-hour days, whereas 10-hour shifts had caused overlap in shifts and inconsistent working schedules.

Tucker disagreed with Valladon's assertions about officer retention and recruitment.

"I think that Mr. Valladon is looking at this in the same negative way the POA has looked at this for many years," he said.

Tucker was backed throughout the arbitration by Mayor Ron Dellums, whose staff often speaks of the importance of "letting the chief be the chief."

If Valladon's prediction that officers will leave the department comes true, however, Dellums could be in a tough spot.

Since October, the mayor and his staff have repeatedly said that getting the police department up to its authorized strength of 803 officers is a priority for Dellums.

As of mid-October, the department was at 730.

The police department and union will now brace for what could be another bitter struggle, this one over a new contract for officers.

Arbitration hearings on the contract are scheduled to begin in December and will run into January.

Asked if the shift-change decision would affect the contract dispute, Jon Holtzman, the city's lead negotiator on police issues, said, "All I can say is I hope it will cause them to reassess what is essentially a hard-line stance they take on any issue that involves change in the department."

Rains said all the decision will do is embitter a department already struggling with low morale.

"If anything the mood of the Oakland police officers toward the city ... is only going to get worse," he said. "They're only going to get angrier because of this decision."

Copyright 2007 Contra Costa Times

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