The City of Oakland is footing an unbudgeted $18 million bill called overtime. These checks are going to Oakland’s police officers, but no one at the Oakland Police Department is smiling.

Presently, officers and sergeants in Patrol are required to work overtime to achieve minimal coverage of Patrol beats. Even with the mandatory overtime, the Department is not able to sufficiently staff peak crime areas and times, resulting in delayed response times and insufficient police presence in many areas.

The public is outraged, murder rates are up, and the City budget is being sucked dry. Officers are getting a bad rap, to a large extent for things beyond their control. From all angles this is a lose-lose situation.

There are many factors contributing to the current state of policing in Oakland: a crime wave; legislative and federally mandated changes throughout the department; significant understaffing; and a fundamentally inefficient work schedule.

Obviously there are some things the City of Oakland, the Oakland Police Department, and the Oakland Police Officer’s Association (OPOA) cannot change. However, they can and must work together to improve the effective use of officers to deliver police services to the public. Although work schedules are not specified in the police labor contract, the adoption of an efficient and effective work schedule should be a primary goal of current negotiations.

The existing shift plan in the Oakland Police Department provides for “4/10” work schedules in patrol units. This means that officers are regularly scheduled for four 10-hour shifts a week. Although 4/10 work weeks are not uncommon in police departments, the 4/10 schedule is fundamentally inefficient, and it exacerbates the staffing problem.

Alternative work schedules include a “3/12” schedule, and a “5/8” schedule. Although the 5/8 work week is familiar to the majority of the working world, it is uncommon among law enforcement agencies. A 3/12 schedule has been successfully adopted by a number of other large cities, including Los Angeles, Santa Ana and Pasadena.

Both 5/8 and 3/12 schedules allow the department to provide uninterrupted service for 24 hours without any unnecessary overlap of shifts. Because they evenly divide a 24 hour day, these schedules require far fewer officers to provide the same level of service. Either the 5/8 or 3/12 schedule would greatly decrease or eliminate the need for mandatory overtime, benefiting the City, overworked police officers, and the public.

Of course, a more efficient work schedule alone will not improve police services. The City is doing everything in its power to address the need for more police officers on the street.

There has been a huge effort to recruit new officers to this understaffed department. The City is analyzing the jobs within the department to determine which areas can be staffed with civilians, rather than sworn officers. There has also been an effort to entice retirees to come back and work in specific jobs. However, despite these attempts, there is still a huge shortage of officers available to meet the City’s demands.

Mandatory overtime is a serious problem for Oakland Police Department; it is a burden on both the City’s budget and the department’s hard working officers. It is time to focus on the best practices that will improve the service provided to the public. The 4/10 work schedule is contributing to this untenable situation and it must be abandoned. In addition to increased recruitment and greater staffing, a change in shift schedules would be a giant step towards providing more efficient, cost effective, and higher quality service to the public.

Editor’s note: A public forum was hosted by the Black Elected Officials of the East Bay on September 20 from 5 to 9 pm in the City Council Chambers in City Hall to discuss the contracting issues raised in this series. Please address any questions to Councilmember Desley Brooks by email.

This is part 4 of a four-part series that includes: