PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY — Police Chief Tim Jackman is extending until the end of June 2011 a patrol plan in which officers work three, 12.5-hour days per week after a detailed analysis showed response times are down significantly as well as officer-involved collisions and overtime costs.

For the highest priority calls, those being crimes in progress, response times dropped by 35 percent under the “3-12” plan, with officers responding to the scene of a crime in 40 seconds, on average, as opposed to a five-year average of one minute, 15 seconds, according to figures released by the Santa Monica Police Department.

Response times for lower priority calls dropped more than 50 percent. These reductions were achieved despite 2009 being the busiest summer of any of the past five years studied, police said.

The reduction in response times has allowed officers to apprehend more suspects and be more proactive as they have more time between calls to look for suspicious activity on their respective beats, said SMPD Deputy Chief Phil Sanchez.

“I think we are keeping our client base pretty happy,” Sanchez said. “They call the police, we get there pretty quickly, address the problem and then move on to another call. By being more efficient officers have more time to proactively patrol.

“This is a great example of addressing a need without increasing costs to the community.”

Under the plan, patrol officers work three,12.5-hour days per week and one “buy back” shift of 10 hours per month for a total of 160 hours per month, the same number under the previous 10-hour shifts, four days per week.

By having the buy back shift, command staff is able to reassign officers for saturation patrols or increase the ranks during special events, such as the Fourth of July weekend. This has cut down on overtime costs and court absences due to training schedule conflicts. Sanchez said the SMPD saved over $50,000 on Fourth of July weekend because of the flexibility of the 3-12.

A 3-12 pilot program was created in June of last year after command staff and patrol officers came together to identify strategies that would reduce costs while providing better coverage during peak hours.

With the old schedule, officers would be getting out of roll call and hitting the streets at about the same time their colleagues returned to the station, providing no real overlap in coverage. The new schedule allows for considerable overlap, with two shifts working side-by-side for several hours in the afternoons and evenings when more crimes tend to occur, said SMPD Sgt. Jay Trisler, spokesman for the department and president of the Police Officers Association, the union which represents the rank-and-file.

When the pilot program was created there were some concerns about fatigue, with officers potentially making bad decisions at the end of shifts. There was also the negative public perception that officers were working less even though they were putting in the same number of hours as before.

“It’s 40 hours pay for 40 hours work,” Trisler said.

A study by the city of Los Angeles in 2006 found that police there working under the 3-12 were responding slower to emergency calls and overtime costs increased, and that other departments that have tried 3-12 found that their officers were less rested and effective, especially at the end of very long shifts.

That doesn’t seem to be the case in Santa Monica, Sanchez said.

The number of traffic collisions involving officers dropped by 75 percent under 3-12 and there was no increase in personnel complaints for either use of force of conduct unbecoming, evidence that fatigue has not become a factor, Sanchez said.

Furthermore, there was a 34 percent reduction in sick time usage across all three patrol shifts and no statistical increase in on-duty injuries, according to figures provided by the SMPD.

Jackman said he was concerned about fatigue and hired an expert on the 3-12 to develop a training program for the SMPD. Jackman emphasized the research that went into creating the pilot program, saying he did not enter into the decision lightly, which is why he extended the pilot program for one month. He wanted to gather more data.

As for the officers on patrol, the change has increased morale and there is overwhelming support, resulting in the rank-and-file voting in favor of a change in their labor agreement that would allow for the new schedule. That agreement ends in June 2011, at which time the 3-12 plan will be studied closely to see if it should be continued. Periodic reviews will continue in the meantime, Sanchez said.

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