Island police to test new patrol schedule

The Mercer Island Police Department began a trial period for a new scheduling experiment that will extend patrol shifts from an 8-and-a-half to a 12-hour day, earlier this month. The pilot program will be in effect through December of 2015 when the Police Guild revisits its bargaining agreement.

“We've been looking at different schedules, at how it looks for operations, for [officers'] home lives and everything. There was a group that got together and with our contract up for negotiation [this spring] this tends to be a topic that's talked about,” explained Operations Commander Dave Jokinen.

Several other police departments on the Eastside use the 12-hour shift model, including the cities of Kirkland and Issaquah. The new schedule for patrol officers would oscillate between four days on and four days off and three days on and three days off. The day shift will begin at 6 a.m., with a night shift picking up where it leaves off at 6 p.m.

Most of the city's police department lives off-Island and previously had a 6-day-a-week schedule, which was followed by three days off.

“I remember working the patrol schedule, said Jokinen. “Six days becomes really long.”

The new schedule may save the department in overtime costs and is expected to allow for more training during shifts. Jokinen said, even before the switch at the beginning of this month, it wasn't uncommon for officers to work more than their usual eight hours because of being pulled in by an incident.

During a February council meeting, councilmembers asked how the efficacy of the new scheduling model would be tracked. Jokinen says they will run a paralell hypothetical old schedule on a monthly basis alongside the new one and check in regularly with officers.

Only the department's patrol team will be impacted by the switch but another added benefit may be more officers on the street. Under the 12-hour shift, the department would now have four squads made of five officers. It formally had anywhere from a base of three to five officers with staggered days off. That irregularity was further complicated by training schedules. Now patrol will always be at full staff.

“Officers really were looking for a scheduling change and I think it's a good thing [they] want to try different things and see how it works,” said Jokinen. “The officers seem to be motivated by it. It's good for their morale. It gets more officers on the street and the city is better for it.”


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