As law enforcement and fire departments across the nation struggle with staffing shortages, scheduling becomes an increasingly complex task. Departments must carefully balance serving the needs of their communities, protecting officers and firefighters safety, and operating within budgetary constraints. Failure to do this well can not only undermine safety but also create unnecessary costs for departments. In this article, we’ll look at some of the impacts that poor scheduling practices can have on police and fire departments and discuss strategies to improve scheduling outcomes.
Staffing shortages frequently lead to increased overtime for police officers. For the NYPD, for example, overtime costs are expected to hit $740 million in 2023, and the San Diego Police and Fire Departments are expected to spend $49.2 million on overtime during the fiscal year, both cities significantly outspending their overtime budgets. Increased use of overtime can be an ideal solution for short-term needs, but it’s a costly solution to chronic staffing shortages.
It's typical for police officers to receive 150% of their normal hourly pay rate for every hour they work in addition to their standard 40-hour week. Union agreements also grant higher pay rates for additional duties like court appearances and after-hours work as well as minimum rates (such as a ½ day’s pay) when officers are called to duty outside of their schedule. It’s not difficult to see how a poorly managed scheduling process can create sizeable unnecessary costs for departments.
Many public safety personnel prize the opportunity for overtime because of the significant pay bump it brings. When overtime becomes a necessary part of ongoing operations, however, it can seriously undermine employee morale. Excessive overtime disrupts work-life balance, leaving less time to rest between shifts, spend with family and friends, and enjoy recreational pursuits. If sustained over the long term, this can seriously damage morale, lead to burnout, and ultimately compound staffing challenges by compromising retention and recruitment.
When officers and firefighters are required to work excessive hours, the stressors that contribute to low morale also inhibit their ability to perform at their best. Fatigue and sleep deprivation negatively impact the ability to do many things, including:
- Assess risks and likely consequences of a course of action
- Communicate effectively
- Regulate behavior and mood
- Comprehend complex situations
- Monitor one’s own performance
- Employ creative problem solving
In fact, in some cases, sleep deprivation resulting from shift work can inhibit performance as much as intoxication. Research has shown four hours of sleep loss or twenty hours of consecutive wakefulness could have similar impacts to a blood alcohol content of approximately 0.1 percent. Not only is this dangerous for your officers and your community, but it also increases your department’s vulnerability to costly lawsuits.
Scheduling Strategies to Mitigate Excessive Overtime
Effective scheduling practices can help departments rein in costs while supporting their personnel and helping them operate at their best. Examples of scheduling policies that can help reduce your department’s reliance on overtime include:
- Capping the number of overtime hours per pay period
- Implementing mutual aid agreements
- Using scheduling software to automatically apply rules related to shift scheduling, fatigue, overtime, and off-duty work
- Incorporating request management flexibility for shift swaps, time off, and other individual requests, while providing authorization controls that mitigate abuse
Scheduling Technology for Public Safety
In the face of today's staffing shortages, poor scheduling is not an option. When considering a scheduling system, here are a few capabilities it should be able to provide:
- Forecasting vacancies in real time and allowing easy reassignments to minimize overtime
- Automating policy rules around overtime, shift length, rest time, and off-duty work
- Verifying that minimum staffing levels are met
- Receiving fatigue risk alerts
- Using push notifications regarding scheduling changes and requests
- Providing request approval automation based on your defined criteria
Let's face it -- the costs associated with ineffective scheduling practices, including overtime costs, deteriorating morale, and police who are less able to do their jobs, are too high. Learn more about how a comprehensive workforce management solution can streamline your scheduling process and allow your department to better support your personnel.
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