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.

Scheduled vs Actual

How many hours throughout the week does the number of officers scheduled match the number of officers actually working? Does it matter? Can you obtain that data?

“Why are there so many overtime slips?” Lieutenant Harris asks Sergeant Frank. “It’s been a rough month LT, remember my shift has been down two people and one more just got hurt last night.” Upon closer examination though, Lieutenant Harris realizes these aren’t overtime requests for fill-ins to replace missing cops, rather it’s holdovers as too many officers are working past their end-of-shift. The overtime budget is dwindling fast. “Why are they not going home on time?”, he asks himself.

Working past the end-of-shift is not unexpected, but how often that happens is a clear indicator that the schedule may be askew. Even after officers are done handling calls they’re still on the clock. Often officers are hurriedly trying to complete the stacked-up reports at the end of their shift, which only degrades the quality of those reports. Subpar reports end up getting returned to the officer for corrections, only adding to their already long to-do list. The impacts of a mismatched schedule can snowball and are far-reaching.

Agencies are surprised at how many officers they think are on the street versus the actual number working at any given hour. More importantly, though, agencies are often at a loss of how to obtain this information. Without this data, it’s impossible to know if the schedule is out of alignment.

The graph below, from Deploy PlusTM, shows that many hours throughout the week there are more officers on duty than expected. This agency is quickly burning through its overtime budget.

Many more officers on duty than expected throughout the week = lots of overtime

Examining the difference between how many officers are expected to be working and how many are actually working could be the key to fixing a dwindling overtime budget. The graph below shows that there is some leakage of overtime, but not as drastic as the previous example. It also illustrates that there are more officers being held over on Friday and Saturday than the rest of the week. This agency can quickly identify where the shift overlaps need to be addressed.

Just a couple officers are held over a few times throughout the week = less overtime

Throwing officers at a schedule is not going to fix this problem. The solution lies in the ability to determine which hours of the week are suffering and most importantly recalibrating the staffing numbers to match the demand. A well-aligned schedule and allocation create a balanced workload for all and when it’s time to go home……. you can go home.

Click here to see how the Deploy PlusTM platform from Corona Solutions identifies the pain points, recalibrates staffing, and helps save your overtime budget.

Impacts of Attrition and Juggling the Work Left Behind

In recent years law enforcement is being asked to “do more with less,” and at the same time, more and more societal ills are falling to the police for solving. But, bandwidth is shrinking and the workload is expanding, stretching resources so thin that the slightest extra tension could collapse the entire system.

At the same time, policing is experiencing a mass exodus of seasoned officers, and few recruits are ready to step in to take their place. The institutional knowledge walking out the door is going to take years to rebuild. Recruiting woes were the topic of discussion amongst law enforcement leaders long before the current staffing crisis, and things just got worse.

The Deploy Plus™ platform from Corona Solutions is the right tool to balance the workload and buy back officer time. The Deploy™ web application helps find the best allocation and schedule to prevent burnout amongst officers and empowers quick adaptation as workload and personnel change.

Redistributed, more equitable and balanced workload

There are no simple or short resolutions to recruiting and training when it takes 18 – 24 months to put an officer in a car answering calls on their own. Even if agencies are fortunate enough to over-hire in anticipation of attrition rates, the line of recruits waiting to get in is far shorter than it used to be. And, while hiring practices and standards are being evaluated, adjusted, modified, and revised to get more diverse bodies in the door, the work left to do has not subsided.

High saturation levels per officer

Continuing to use overtime to fill shifts is not sustainable. Officers will burn out from constantly running call-to-call, no backup units will be there when needed, and the overtime budget will explode.

When you can’t add cops, the only way to buy back officer time is to maximize the efficiency of your deployment of officers. An evidence-based approach can redistribute the workload across the remaining staff which will be more equitable, safer, and economical.

Click here to learn how Deploy Plus can help.