Costa Mesa police change shift structure

The Costa Mesa Police Department earlier this month switched to a new schedule that officials say will give the city coverage at times it needs the most.

Police staffing: An earlier version did not make clear the actual number of sworn police officers in the Costa Mesa Police Department. The correct number is 131.

But one outside expert who has studied police shifts cautioned that fatigue can be an issue for officers assigned to longer days.

About half the city's patrol officers are now working 12 hours three days a week, Friday through Sunday, said Lt. Bryan Glass.

The rest put in 10-hour shifts four days a week, Monday through Thursday.

City CEO Tom Hatch said in an email that the shift changes do not affect the department's budget, but instead provide for more coverage in the field for responding to emergency calls.

Police Chief Tom Gazsi said the new schedule is a pilot program that will be assessed monthly by a study group to examine issues of overtime, productivity, fatigue, injuries and response time to calls.

He called the new schedule essential with a police force that's now smaller due to citywide cutbacks.

"With decreased staffing it was necessary to move to a modified staff system to maintain efficient staffing levels," Gazsi said, adding that previously the 4/10 workweek had heavy overlap.

He said that the department uses the extra hours in the 3/12 schedule for special field operations, special events staffing and to provide training time. He added that the new schedule also allows officers to spend time during the week on self-improvement.

"Predictability of working weekends allows our personnel for professional development and educational opportunities during the week, as well as family and relationship dynamics," Gazsi said.

He added that the model allows for consistency in police service to the community.

"This model follows the tradition of area policing, and oversight whereby officers work consistently together and for the same watch commanders to ensure continuity of policing," Gazsi said.

The shift toward 12-hour days — a national trend among smaller police agencies trying to save money — is potentially dangerous, said Karen L. Amendola, the principal investigator on a Police Foundation study that examined police shifts.

Amendola's study — "The Shift Length Experiment: What We Know About 8-, 10- and 12-Hour Shifts in Policing" — said that after about 17 hours of wakefulness, including time not spent working, anyone becomes impaired to a level equal to being drunk.

"In some ways, it's almost like a diminishing return," she said, although she cautioned that the organizations used in the group's experiment involved large, busy departments and that smaller agencies may not report the same amount of fatigue.

"Increased hours at work seem to have a negative effect when you get beyond 10 and certainly beyond 12 [hours]," Amendola said. "Clearly they know they're not going to get stuck in overtime, but they may pay out in increased risk."

Officers who work 10-hour days get the most sleep compared with those who worked 8- and 12-hour days. They also reported a higher quality work life, the study found.

Amendola said asking officers to drive home after a longer shift could pose a risk for those who are weary from a long day of work.

Reorganization of the department passed in a 4-1 vote last June, with Councilwoman Wendy Leece dissenting.

The changes went into effect Jan. 15, with 23 patrol officers on the 3/12 schedule alongside five supervisors doing the same shift. The remaining 27 patrol officers are on the 4/10 schedule under the auspices of six supervisors.

The Police Department has 131 sworn personnel. 

In 1982, Palos Verdes Estates became the first city in Southern California to have officers in its department work a 3-12 schedule, according to Los Angeles Times archives.

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