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Calif. department to require mandatory overtime, raising fatigue worries

Struggle to keep an adequate number of cops on the streets amid a historically rapid outflow has spurred department to make an unprecedented move

By Robert Salonga
San Jose Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The struggle to keep an adequate number of cops on the streets of San Jose amid a historically rapid outflow of officers has spurred the department to make the unprecedented move of requiring patrol officers to work mandatory overtime starting June 29.

Union officials say the requirement will create even more stress for patrol officers who already collectively volunteer to work more than 2,000 hours worth of overtime shifts each month to cover basic shifts.

Now if there are not enough volunteers to cover those shifts, the department will require officers to work overtime to fill in the gaps.

"It's something we feel we have to do for the greater good and to keep the patrol force safe," Assistant Chief Eddie Garcia said. "Our number one job is when someone calls 911, we get there as quickly as possible."

The department has just over 1,000 officers, about 900 of them ready for full-duty. Of those, about 450 are assigned to patrol where the minimum patrol staffing target is 492 officers. The difference is made up through overtime shifts and officers reassigned from other divisions such as investigations.

Holding over officers to work overtime is not new, but it has historically only been employed for major events that require a large police presence such as downtown festivals, not to staff regular patrols.

There have not been enough volunteers to cover all the regular patrol shifts.

Under the overtime plan, Fridays and midnight shifts that have been typically undermanned will be bolstered by officers completing the preceding shift. So someone working a day shift would work two to three hours into the subsequent swing shift based on need. The new system will be reassessed at the end of August.

Garcia said lieutenants and commanders will have discretion in determining the extent of the need for mandatory overtime work, which will be assigned according to reverse seniority. Volunteers will be first sought, but this plan was designed because those numbers have not been sufficient due to availability or, as is the increasing experience with patrol officers, sheer exhaustion.

"You're talking about longer shifts for guys who have already been up all night," said Sgt. Jim Unland, president of the San Jose Police Officers' Association. "We can't do this anymore."

Since 2008, nearly 400 officers — more than 25 percent of the total force — have left SJPD due to retirements or departures, often to neighboring agencies, amid a protracted political fight with city leaders over pay and pension reforms. Garcia did not specify what staffing level would trigger the mandatory overtime.

Copyright 2014 the San Jose Mercury News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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