12’s May Not Be the Solution You Think

Fewer and fewer people are signing up to be in law enforcement. The remaining officers are working so many hours that burnout is exacerbating the attrition problem. Agencies think the only way to solve the problem is to enact a 12-hour shift pattern. This is an inefficient solution to decreased staffing.

Is attrition impacting patrol staff numbers? Are you operating with fewer patrol staff numbers than you have allocated? Is overtime in patrol increasing?

When I asked my audience of law enforcement command staff if these statements applied to their agency, a room full of hands went up. When asked what they were doing to solve the problem, many said they were moving to 12-hour shifts. That’s unfortunate, I told them. You’re overstaffing too many hours, to which I received puzzling looks. Let me explain…

Attrition, staffing woes, and officer burnout are terms you don’t have to look hard to find in the news about law enforcement agencies these days. Attrition is higher now than what agencies have been accustomed to. Fewer and fewer people are signing up to be in law enforcement. The remaining officers are working so many hours that burnout is exacerbating the attrition problem. Agencies may think the only way to solve the problem is to enact a 12-hour shift pattern. This is an inefficient solution to decreased staffing.

The most efficient staffing would see the number of officers working each hour proportionate to the demand for that hour. Demand for service changes each hour, and every day is different. So, in a perfect world, we would schedule a different number of officers every hour. For the agency represented below, you can see how the same hour on different weekdays requires a vastly different number of officers to optimally meet demand. For example, 14:00-15:00 on Monday needs 29 officers, while the same hour on Saturday and Sunday only needs 23. That particular hour on Monday has more traffic-related activity than the weekend does, which means more accidents. Accidents are one of the most frequent calls that officers respond to, and they usually take multiple officers to handle and are quite time-consuming.

Deploy Application – taken from an actual agency schedule

We don’t live in a perfect world, so we can’t schedule officers by the hour, but we can try to get as close as possible. The shorter the shift, the closer we can get. The longer the shift, the further we are from optimal allocation. That makes 12’s the furthest from optimal allocation.

One of the issues with 12’s is the shift overlap. Let’s pretend we have one shift that works 06:00-18:00 and the other works 18:00-06:00. Officers don’t end their shift on time because they’re covering the street while the next shift is gearing up. This is especially true during the 18:00 hour, one of the busier hours for most agencies. This turns a 12-hour shift into a 13 or 14-hour shift. Stack those 13 and 14-hour shifts on top of each other, resulting in a team full of fatigued officers. There are myriad issues related to operating with a staff full of fatigued officers, but that’s for a future blog post. Suffice it to say that the problems lying in wait (to quote Gordon Graham) are sizeable.

Well then, Lori, what if we used cover teams for the shift overlaps? OK, I say, are you going to have four shifts? A cover shift for each of the overlaps would require four shifts. Let’s pretend we add a 05:00 – 17:00 and a 17:00 – 05:00 team. So, you’re going to schedule officers to work 12 hours to cover two 1-hour gaps, one at 06:00 and the other at 18:00. Increasing the number of officers during the busier hours, usually until 20:00 during the week, is great. Still, now we’ve overstaffed the remaining hours. When the number of available officers is low, the last thing we should be doing is overstaffing.

More commonly than not, when 12-hour shifts are enacted, a rotation is added, so officers get some weekends off. This causes yet another inefficiency. To adequately staff the busier nights of the week, such as Friday and Saturday, you’ll have to bump up the staffing. Now, you have enough to cover those busy nights, but on the not-so-busy nights, you’ve got too many officers, and once again, we’re back to overstaffing. The demand follows a weekly pattern, and so should your schedule.

Finding the best schedule and allocation, with dwindling resources, is not an easy task. Follow our blog posts as we continue to discuss these topics and for further information, click here.

How Do You Really Know How Many Cops You Need?

The key is to know exactly which elements you need, how to scrutinize and clean that data, how to organize it, and most importantly how to apply it.

Law enforcement is now a data-driven profession, forcing agencies to provide statistically-defensible articulation for how many patrol officers are needed to maintain or reach specific goals such as emergency response times or backup unit availability.

This is quickly becoming a hot-button issue, and we are witnessing a collision between politics and demand. If demand dictates more officers, is the area then being over-policed? There is a struggle between officer safety and budgets, and sometimes there simply is no more money to spend. Some officers working the street may feel their safety is being disregarded and they are being taken for granted while others may think everything is great. That’s the byproduct of an imbalanced workload. Then there’s the issue of minimum staffing. An ambiguous number that becomes cemented in the agency culture. We can all agree that there needs to be a certain number of officers on duty, but what is the basis for that number? Is it by shift? Is it by the hour, so the minimum can be met by different shifts?

Even if an agency had all of the officers they’re allocated, there could still be an imbalance in the workload. Officers could struggle to keep up during certain hours while at other hours officers don’t run call-to-call. That’s the byproduct of an inefficient schedule. It’s nearly impossible to consider all of these factors and come up with a patrol schedule and deployment plan that feels perfect for everyone. So, how do we find a defensible and agreeable plan to move forward? What is the best way?

The answer lies in the first paragraph of this blog post…. a DATA-DRIVEN solution. Upfront, everyone needs to know that they won’t get exactly what they want. This means the community, the officers, the command staff, the purse-string holders, and anyone else who thinks they know the right answer.

It’s hard to argue with numbers and when those numbers are shown to everyone, they become fact. It’s important to be transparent in how these numbers were derived. Once, during my years as an analyst, there was a neighborhood that felt neglected by the police department. They claimed they never saw the police patrol their neighborhood, even as they had high crime and drive-by shootings every weekend. Wow, I thought, we’ve really dropped the ball with these guys. Guess I better see what they’re talking about. I did my analyst thing, pulled the data, cleaned the data, and gathered additional data just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Where was this high crime they spoke of? Drive-by shootings, surely we’d have records? The data was succinct. Low crime, and no drive-by shootings. Did they have crime, sure, but it was minimal in comparison to other neighborhoods. We sympathized with their perception that they were neglected by the police. But, when we showed them (with DATA) that we really need to spend our time in the neighborhoods that had higher crime and we couldn’t justify pulling cops from high crime areas where they are needed more, they actually agreed! They didn’t come away with what they wanted but were satisfied with the reason why.

The same solution applies to patrol staffing. There’s a plethora of data available to do this, specifically within CAD. The key is to know exactly which elements you need, how to scrutinize and clean that data, how to organize it, and most importantly how to apply it.

Interested in learning more about the most efficient way available to deploy our patrol officers? Click here

The Need to Recalibrate Staffing as Attrition Rises and Recruits Dwindle

Assuming there was no other option, many agencies moved to 12-hour patrol shifts, thinking that was the only way to maintain minimum, or close to minimum, staffing levels.

To say that workloads have changed for patrol officers in the recent past is an understatement. For some, pandemic shutdowns altered which calls officers respond to in-person and temporarily decreased the day-to-day workload. Then more serious resource-intensive calls related to violent crime started creeping up. When the shutdowns lifted, society was anxious to get moving again. As all of this happened, law enforcement officers reevaluated their career choice and began leaving in droves. Agencies suddenly found their patrol ranks dangerously short-staffed.

Many responded by disbanding specialized units, pulling detectives out of investigations, and sending all warm bodies to cover patrol shifts. Assuming there was no other option, many agencies moved to 12-hour patrol shifts, thinking that was the only way to maintain minimum, or close to minimum, staffing levels.

48 officers on a 12-Hour schedule

It may seem like an intuitive move. However, inefficiencies can hide in 12-hour shift schedules. Either there is no overlap between shifts and officers frequently get held over, or, if there are overlapping cover shifts, then too many hours become overstaffed.

The inefficiency of a 12-Hour schedule

Recruiting woes were being felt by law enforcement agencies even before the pandemic hit. Now recruiting is even more difficult and agencies are upping their game, offering hefty monetary incentives to attract the pale number of applicants.

Realistically, it will be a long while before recruiting catches up with attrition, if it ever does at all. In the meantime, robbing Peter to pay Paul is not sustainable. There’s a need for specialized units, now probably more than ever, and there has to be personnel dedicated to investigating and closing cases. Agencies need to ask themselves if they’re running patrol operations as efficiently as possible. Besides pulling bodies from other areas, what can agencies do to better staff patrol? The answer is to look at their SCHEDULE. Examining how patrol officers are deployed can uncover inefficiencies. By capitalizing on better deployment configurations, agencies can find a better fit between the number of officers they have and the workload their community demands.

48 officers on a 10-Hour schedule
More efficient 10-Hour schedule

Creating, changing, altering and adopting a patrol schedule requires computations on vast amounts of data. Utilizing this data, Corona Solutions harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to provide service projections based upon any given schedule. Deploy PlusTM from Corona Solutions provides detailed insight into patrol workload and the Deploy application. Visit our website to see how the value of this platform can work for your agency.

Maintaining Officer Safety in the Midst of Budget Cuts

Police budgets were fragile before nationwide calls to Defund the Police became loud and impossible for government leaders to ignore. This, along with the economic downturn due to COVID-19, is forcing police agencies to do more with less. So how do you maintain officer safety with the availability of backup assistance while your staffing numbers decrease?

Police budgets were fragile before nationwide calls to Defund the Police became loud and impossible for government leaders to ignore. The economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 crisis hit local budgets hard and fast. Law enforcement agencies were already on track to lose money they thought the economy would provide. Money they were planning to use for hiring more officers and increasing pay amongst other things. Those plans fell apart when the Safer-at-Home orders began and the revenue needed to supply those funds dried up. Now the push to decrease police budgets and divert the funding away from law enforcement is being thrust upon city and county leaders. This is forcing law enforcement to run much leaner than they have in the past.

Most law enforcement agencies were placed on a hiring freeze when the COVID-19 pandemic started, impacting local budgets. Now, those vacancies have become permanent, at least for the foreseeable future. Vacancies in the sworn contingent of law enforcement agencies are immediately felt in patrol operations. Patrol is where new police officer hires are predominantly placed, filling holes created by attrition and the cascade of promotions and reassignments that occur when tenured officers depart.

Patrol operations not only feel the impact of short staffing before other parts of the agency do, but they also are most affected by officer safety matters. Having officers available to respond, when you need them the most, is paramount to officer safety.

So, how do you ensure availability to maintain officer safety and meet the workload demands of your community while your staffing number decreases?

To accomplish this you must employ an evidence-based approach, one that illustrates exactly what the impact of short staffing will have to your patrol operations. Using a data-driven process not only allows you to see exactly when officer safety vulnerability occurs, but it also allows you to transparently define those risks for stakeholders.

Below, an evidence-based approach is used to determine the number of patrol officers needed to secure officer safety. In this example, the agency size and workload dictate that four officers should always be available for backup assistance if needed. For this agency, 105 patrol officers are needed across the schedule to meet that requirement. However, if the agency only has 95 patrol officers to deploy across the schedule due to budget cuts, then the security of having four officers available for backup assistance decreases to only 80% of the time. With this data, stakeholders can make informed decisions with the knowledge of the associated risks with reduced staffing numbers

At the same time, the agency can see what happens to their response time goal by reducing their patrol staff. In this example, if the agency wanted to attain an average response time of 7.5 minutes to emergency calls 75% of the time, they would need 116 patrol officers. If the agency only had 95 officers, as in the above example, they would only be able to attain a 7.5 minute response time average to emergency calls 30% of the time. Again, this provides the agency, stakeholders, and community a transparent, data-driven method to evaluate the effects of reduced staffing on service expectations.

Sample Graphs from Deploy Plus depicting Operational Goal requirements

Whether it’s due to direct budget cuts or redirecting funds, police agencies will need to figure out how to safely deploy and provide effective services with leaner resources. Using data to drive deployment decisions is smart policing.

The Deploy Plus platform by Corona Solutions is the most economical way for agencies to provide this level of transparency and high-level, evidence-based decision making. Contact us today to find out how your agency can adequately staff for officer safety in the midst of budget cuts.