Over the past few decades, many state and municipal law enforcement departments across the country have studied the advantages and disadvantages of implementing a compressed work schedule (CWS) for their uniformed officers and agents. “Lateral thinking,” coined by Edward de Bono (1970) is a set of approaches and techniques designed to find radically new approaches to problems - to come at them from the side rather than the front. Compressed scheduling demonstrates great lateral thinking when it comes to improving personnel scheduling systems.
This idea evaluates the viability of CWSs in law enforcement. In order to improve efficiency, morale, retention and recruiting; it will examine the current strategic environment and direction, current uses of CWS in law enforcement, governing authorizations, as well as known benefits and limitations.
There are different forms of alternative work schedules (AWS) authorized for use in the federal government. One of them is the compressed schedule being discussed throughout this article. A compressed schedule completes an employee's basic requirements of the 14 day pay period in less than 10 workdays.
The phrase “sausage making” is often used inside the beltway to describe the procedures used to create laws, vision, and policies. This description illustrates the efforts of multiple agencies or elements bringing many different pieces together in order to create something that is acceptable to the affected parties. This usually expedites the path to an acceptable or good product. Unfortunately good is the enemy of great. The federal government often accepts what is good in lieu of not being able to achieve what is great.
Several universities, police departments and private organizations have commissioned studies collecting the wide ranging effects resulting from implementations of compressed schedules. According to a leading expert on the subject of officer fatigue, Bryan Vila, Ph.D. of the Washington State University Criminal Justice Program, Sleep and Performance Research Center, police departments across the United States are rapidly adopting compressed shifts, generally using 12-hour variants.
The disadvantages notwithstanding, a CWS offers agencies and their employees many advantages. It makes the most efficient use of the available workforce to accomplish the agency’s core mission, leading a unified national effort to secure the United States of America. This type of robust scheduling provides agents additional days for personal time, family events, and needed respite.
A compressed schedule increases the morale of employees. Morale is one of those intangibles that can be difficult to describe in words, but has very real effects on the operational tempo of any organized unit. While good agency morale helps mission success, there are other ancillary benefits to a compressed schedule. Significant cost savings will be realized through reduced utilities and fuel usage. Also, the negative environmental impacts or footprint of conducting routine operations are therefore dramatically reduced as well.
The strategic leaders of today’s learning organizations must consider all advantages and disadvantages before making changes. This is especially true with the topic of scheduling because enterprise approach changes will invariably impact each and every employee. Second and third order effects such as family impacts must also be critically analyzed. The implementation of the vision outlined in this article would require the radical rethinking of some policies, strategies, and attitudes in federal law enforcement agencies.
It is always appropriate for any strategic leader to institute programs and policies that further stabilize their workforce, exercise fiduciary responsibility, and expand both the support network and ability to complete their mission. When these efforts enable a strategic leader to do more with less while decreasing costs and deleterious effects, that leader has just hit a strategic home run.
Research of this phenomenon reveals that most of the Nation’s largest municipal and state law enforcement departments have instituted a CWS for their sworn, uniformed personnel. In many of these departments, a CWS has been used so long that it is now a part of their departments' law enforcement culture. While many state and municipal law enforcement departments have been extremely progressive over the past few decades with implementing variations of a CWS for their uniformed personnel, federal law enforcement agencies have remained in a period of strategic drift.
Our country's most premier, primary and professional law enforcement departments are widely utilizing a CWS to better enable their officers to complete their missions. Rather than a full dichotomous separation, there is a ubiquitous spread of CWS use by law enforcement nationwide based on the asymmetry between those using conventional schedules versus those using a CWS. Of the country’s largest municipal and state departments interviewed, 87% are using some form of a CWS. The leaders of these departments believe a CWS is an essential part of their strategic vision. In fact, some police departments such as in Mesa, Arizona have found a CWS to be so culturally ingrained, it is now indispensable.
The Mesa Arizona Police Department (MPD) has used a CWS at least since 1986. They were one of the first departments in the country to begin using a CWS. According to Lt. Chris Hern of MPD, they use a CWS comprised of four 10-hour days of work, followed by three days off. While using a CWS, they have experienced a reduction in sick leave usage and increased morale among their uniformed personnel. In an effort to reduce overtime costs, Lt. Hern describes a period of four years when the department rolled back to a conventional eight-hour work day. The department soon realized that the overtime savings did not outweigh what was identified as a significant decrease in morale, and reverted back to the 4/10 CWS. This demonstrates that a CWS becomes a part of the professional culture.
These findings are not unique to Mesa, Arizona. The Jacksonville, Florida Sheriff's Office works a CWS of 11.42-hour days for five consecutive days, followed by four days off. This schedule has not resulted in an increase in officer fatigue related incidents. The Miami Florida Police Department works a CWS of predominantly 4/10. However, they also mix in a few eight-hour shifts and 12-hour shifts as well. The range of hours worked per day varies widely across the country, but the research indicates that the hours worked per day are less important to physical and mental recovery than the number of days off between long stretches of compressed work hours.
In the New York Police Department (NYPD), they use a wide range of CWSs that vary from 8.23-hour days up to 17-hour days. NYPD Detective Martin Speechly is not aware of any issues with officer fatigue in their ranks. The Columbus Ohio Police Department uses a 4/10 CWS for its patrol officers. They are currently expanding the use of the 4/10 CWS to their specialty divisions as well.
Officer fatigue was not identified as an issue in departments where three or more days off are routine. The Raleigh North Carolina Police Department (RPD) recently changed from a CWS of 10.5-hour days, to a CWS of 12-hour days. They also changed work days and days off to two days on followed by two days off. After a year and a half of this new 12-hour day CWS and only having two days off between work stretches, RPD Cpt. Norman Grodi said, "there is some belief that the two days off are not enough time to recuperate physically." This is why it is beneficial to expand the number of days between work-weeks to three or more days off at a time on a routine basis.
Of all of the research conducted for this article, the most interesting use of a CWS was by the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Police Department. They use a CWS of eight consecutive 10-hour days, or an 8/10, followed by six days off-duty. This schedule is widely treasured by their officers.
When initially discussing a CWS, the topic of officer fatigue comes up quickly. Managing and mitigating fatigue requires striking a balance between a police officer’s circadian rhythms and the rhythms of society. There are many wide ranging contributing stressors to officer fatigue. Combinations of stressors in the police patrol environment produce cumulative and synergistic effects. For example, overwork, loss of sleep, irregular sleep patterns, boredom, or high anxiety each can increase fatigue and the rate at which it accumulates.
Dr. Vila has assisted many police departments with officer fatigue issues and the establishment of compressed work schedules. According to him, rotating shifts is one of the worst things any manager can do, especially when rotating backwards. Regardless of the direction, rotating shifts are damaging. In a 10-hour shift system it disrupts one’s biological systems and circadian rhythms in a manner equivalent to a 10-hour time zone shift. Frankly, it is the same thing as jet lag. Jet lag is always worse when flying west to east, which is the same negative impact on the human body as rotating backwards. Shift rotations should be minimized to the least amount acceptable by the department. When interviewed, Dr. Vila said “I’d expect you would have fewer accidents, fewer injuries, and fewer disciplinary problems if you got away from rotating shifts; they simply fly in the face of science.”
Authorization for federal agencies to use a CWS for its employees has already been granted at many legislative and administrative levels. The Federal Employees Flexible and Compressed Work Schedules Act of 1982, codified at 5 U.S.C. § 6120 et seq. (the F&CWS law), authorizes a versatile and innovative work scheduling program for use in the Federal Government. CWS is also strongly encouraged by Presidential memorandum dated July 11, 1994. It is also authorized by Title 5 of the United States Codes (5 USC) § 6127 - Compressed schedules, as well as in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in its Management Directive (MD) number 254-04, revision number: 00, issue date May 31, 2007. MD 254-04 states, “AWS have the potential to enable managers and supervisors to meet their program goals while, at the same time, allowing employees to be more flexible in scheduling their personal activities.” The benefits provided by AWS programs also are useful recruitment and retention tools.
The men and women of the federal law enforcement agencies must have honor, integrity, character and compassion at their core. In transitioning to a CWS, more than at any other time in its history, unit cohesion, would be at a greater level and would positively impact every tier of the federal law enforcement. A CWS means that all unit elements work together as a team all of the time. No other arrangement could possibly be more cohesive.
There are many advantages for moving to a permanent basic four day on, four day off CWS. Some of the advantages include but are not limited to:
• Enhanced unit cohesion
• Increased retention
• Increased recruiting ability
• Increased days off
• Increased time for physical recovery
• Improved ability to plan personal and family events in the short and long term
• Decreased attrition
• Decreased fuel consumption in personally owned vehicles
• Decreased fuel consumption in government owned vehicles
• Decreased building utility consumption to complete regular shift rotations
• Team integrity and unity
• Rotation synchronization
These advantages greatly benefit the federal law enforcement agencies holistically.
In the current 5/8 work-week, agents’ basic requirements are to report to work 260 days per year. In lieu of reporting to work, agents can utilize one of several types of available approved leave. In a 4/10 CWS, agents only have a basic requirement of reporting to work 208 days per year. The implementation of this CWS immediately provides agents with an additional 52 days off a year. Although some researchers have found that longer workdays can increase reported fatigue, others have found that increased time off enable workers to fully recuperate. When workers’ interests and departments’ interests are aligned, great results can be predicted.
In the research conducted for this article, only departments with two days off expressed any issues with officer fatigue; however, it was not severe enough for them to institute any enterprise-wide changes. The departments having consecutive days off ranging from three to six days reported no officer fatigue issues in their respective departments. Research shows that officer fatigue is more related to the number of consecutive days off between work-weeks, than it is related to the number of hours worked per day.
Reporting to work 52 less days per year is accomplished by a 2.5-hour per day investment by the agent. The duties of a Border Patrol Agent at times do require exceptional physical demands. The four days off-duty cycle in the 4/10 CWS provides agents with significantly more time for physical and mental recuperation. This better enables human bodies to endure the required duties over a twenty-five year career cycle. Pierce and Durham (1992) found a significant reduction in reported fatigue and stress following institution of a [4/12] schedule but were unable to obtain objective fatigue measures.
In a recent memorandum from Acting Chief Michael J. Fisher of the U.S. Border Patrol, dated January 22, 2010, he introduces the DHSTogether: Employee and Organizational Resilience Program. This is a new program designed to bring awareness and education to all DHS employees about the daily pressures of one’s job and family. In support of this program and in an effort to foster a workforce with healthy minds and resilient spirits, Secretary Janet Napolitano is asking that all Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employees participate in a safety stand-down. “In the past few years, [the] agency has experienced an increased number of suicides and off-duty arrests.” Frequently, these incidents are related to an inability to cope with the daily pressures of one's job and family. The stability and increased number of days off offered by a compressed work schedule allows uniformed personnel more control over the important aspects of their personal lives as well as additional time to spend with their families on a consistent basis.
In a recent Brigham Young University study (BYU), it has been documented that employees working a 4/10 work-week experience lower levels of work–family conflict than their counterparts who are working conventional schedules. With the exception of a semi-annual shift bidding season, 4/10 CWS shifts are permanently scheduled. Anyone looking at any point into the future immediately knows whether a particular unit is working, whether they are looking at weeks, months, or years into the future. This actually aids agents when deciding for which shift to bid.
Since being named the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano has had at least two efficiency reviews within her department. "DHS is committed to streamlining our operations, increasing transparency and maximizing the use of taxpayer dollars," said Secretary Napolitano. "I am proud of the initial successes of our Efficiency Review, which are already changing the culture at DHS and generating significant savings and efficiencies." The use of a compressed work schedule in the federal government, implemented in an enterprise approach, increases efficiencies and create financial savings for both the employees and the American taxpayer.
Employees commute to and from work four days per week instead of the current five days per week. That equates to a permanent 20% reduction in commuting fuel costs for every agent, supervisor and manager. Additionally, that same 20% reduction translates into an equivalent reduction in the negative environmental impact created by the footprint of everyday commuting, regardless of the method of travel.
It is impossible to calculate the actual monetary savings in advance, but using a recent ABC News poll, the average American commuter travels sixteen miles each way to and from work. When considering traffic signal wait times, delays and congestion, a conservative estimate indicates that approximately two gallons of fuel per employee is used to commute to and from work. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, as of December 07, 2009, the average cost of gas per gallon in the United States is $2.63. Based on these national averages, the annual fuel cost is $1,367 per person to commute to and from work. The implementation of a 4/10 CWS results in each agent, supervisor, and manager to report to work one less day per week. Reporting to work one less day per week saves each agent $273.52 annually. If 20,000 agents reported to work one day less per week, that annual personal savings would be approximately $5.5 million.
These savings may be higher as most Border Patrol stations are located in remote locations and therefore outside the normal range sited in the ABC News poll. While there are no studies to confirm it, there is anecdotal evidence that Border Patrol agents on average, travel greater distances than the average commuter, which would result in even higher yearly savings. The environmental impact created by Border Patrol agents would also be further reduced.
In a 4/10 CWS, shift rotations decrease from the standard three shifts per day to two shifts per day. Currently, the USBP’s Brownsville, Texas Station (BRP), consumes 225 gallons of fuel during an average shift. The average number of agents mustered for each shift at a Border Patrol Station is thirty. Most agents drive on average twenty miles each way between their station and their assigned area of responsibility (AOR), thereby using approximately three gallons of fuel in order to complete their shift change rotations. With three shift rotations occurring in the current 5/8 conventional work schedule, about ninety gallons of fuel is used to rotate agents in and out of the stations at shift change. By removing one rotation of agents during the day, the average station will realize an annual savings of 32,850 gallons of fuel, or approximately $86,395.50, based on pricing data available at this writing. While unlikely, should fuel prices stay at their current prices and considering there are 143 Border Patrol Stations, the savings to be realized by the agency would be approximately $12.4 million annually.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is currently engaged in a “Going Green” campaign. Recently CBP completed construction of the new El Paso Border Patrol Station. Over time, the energy efficiencies at the new El Paso Station will save taxpayer dollars by lowering operational costs. For example, [they] expect to save approximately 25% on annual electric usage by using state-of-the-art energy-saving technologies, such as skylights, occupancy sensor lights, solar panels, reflective roofing, and LED lights.
While these efforts demonstrate significant progress where new stations are being built, there are many other ways federal agencies such as DHS can contribute to the “Going Green” or like kind campaigns. To illustrate, the Brownsville Station (BRP) uses approximately $168,000 of electricity annually in its administrative areas. The majority of this usage can be attributed to the hours during shift change as that is when the station population swells. Outside of those time periods, the station’s administrative areas are virtually empty.
Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the reduction from three shift changes per day to two shift changes per day would result in an approximately 33% decrease in utility usage in these administrative areas. The station exampled above would realize an approximate savings of $55,440 annually. Considering there are 143 Border Patrol Stations, the savings to be realized by the agency would be approximately $8 million annually.
There are limitations to be considered with a CWS as well. Disadvantages include the loss of ability to request days off which is usually done by seniority. In this type of CWS, days off are set in advance and are known in advance for the life cycle of the schedule rotation. Longer work days are also a disadvantage of working a CWS. That being said, they are not out of the ordinary and are very much in line with the overwhelming large municipal and state law enforcement departments.
Days off are generally approved on the basis of seniority. The most senior people in the agency will be reluctant to give up the control that they currently have and enjoy when it comes to choosing their regular days off. On the other hand, fairness demands that you base your judgment on thoughtful consideration of the overall strengths and weaknesses of the ideas, not on your initial impressions or feelings. Federal law enforcement agencies are resilient learning organizations and most certainly possess the ability to overcome this anticipated friction. A CWS marginalizes the privilege of seniority as it institutes an equitable distribution of days off for all uniformed personnel.
In conclusion, it is difficult to argue with success. The vast majority of the largest law enforcement departments nationwide utilize a compressed work schedule for their sworn, uniformed personnel because of the ameliorative effects. The use of a compressed work schedule eliminates the deleterious effects of conventional scheduling for the agency, the agents and their families, as well as the environment. Many of the departments interviewed for this paper that do not use a compressed work schedule today have expressed either their interest or intention to implement a CWS. Only three departments interviewed stated that they had no desire to alter their current scheduling practices. The known benefits far outweigh the known disadvantages. This has been scientifically repeatedly proven in numerous professional studies. The advantages of a CWS have been thoroughly documented and peer-reviewed, and are therefore difficult to dispute. As the mission of leading a unified national effort to secure the United States of America evolves, so too must the methods, tactics, and policies that govern it.
A quick surface examination of a single agency revealed over $25 million in annual savings in both governmental and personal expenses. Greatly improved morale has spawned in virtually every department that has implemented a CWS; therefore it has become a significant part of the law enforcement culture. This robust scheduling improves retention and recruitment while decreasing attrition. Many work-family issues have been resolved because of this type of scheduling. The use a CWS is supported, authorized and encouraged at every level of oversight up to and including the President of the United States.
The USBP is a great learning organization which has been willing to make and accept changes that holistically benefit the Agency. Numerous examples of benefits for the Agency have been professionally sourced and well documented in this paper. Among them is greatly improved scheduling, workforce stability, tremendous unit cohesion gains, a Station X capability, 52 additional days annually off for mental, emotional and physical respite, and workforce efficiency improvements comparable to having an additional 400 agents nationwide. There are also significant environmental impact reductions created by reduced utility and fuel consumptions. All of this is in alignment with both the DHSTogether: Employee and Organizational Resilience Program and the CBP “Going Green” campaign.
A good vision acknowledges that sacrifices will be necessary but makes it clear that these sacrifices will yield particular benefits and personal satisfactions that are far superior to those available today - or tomorrow - without attempting to change. The concept presented in this paper is only one vision of what sound strategic leadership looks like in a 2010 learning organization. This concept is offered for consideration and not for blind acceptance. Even though the vision contained herein would work as it is written and may be the final solution, it is not presented as the sole solution. It is meant to create a dialogue about the use of compressed scheduling in law enforcement, and especially in federal law enforcement at the strategic leadership levels, ultimately resulting in a stream-lined, dynamic workforce that is both efficient and effective in their mission of securing the United States of America. The Journal of Business Strategy's 1999 Strategist of the Century, Peter Senge, encapsulates the word vision as it relates to strategy the best when he says, "It's not what the vision is; it's what the vision does."
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