Washburn County Sheriff Candidates Answer Questions Vol. 2
Last week, the topic of 12-hour shifts was brought up in a response to our first question. We had a scheduled question for this week but have moved that to next week to allow each candidate the opportunity speak on this topic directly. We figured that if we didn't know much about this topic, others might not either.
The candidates answered 7 questions. Per last week's coin-flip, Washburn County Chief Deputy Mike Richter answers will appear first, followed by the answers from Minong Police Chief Dennis Stuart
1. Why should Washburn County residents care about the topic of a 12-hour shift?
Mike Richter: When the residents of Washburn County elect a Sheriff, they will entrust the Sheriff to conduct operations in a competent and responsible manner. I don’t think most people want to concern themselves with staff scheduling or many of the hundreds of other decisions that go into running The Sheriff’s Office. This is why the electorate places the right person in office. As a whole, the residents should be concerned that the services provided by The Sheriff’s Office meet the needs and expectations of our community.
As this series of questions are all about 12 hour shifts, the citizens should expect that their Sheriff is knowledgeable on the topic and has researched the data that specifically applies to The Washburn County Sheriff’s Office. The specific rotation of days on duty and off, employee union contractual language, along with staffing levels is critical to determine if these shifts serve the needs of the county. Generally, an agency with higher staffing levels has a better experience with the 12 hour shifts than agencies with medium to low staffing levels. Make no mistake; the fact that some other agency has 12 hour shifts is irrelevant to the determination of if they are a good fit for The Washburn County Sheriff’s Office.
As with every decision that The Sheriff makes, the primary consideration is if this serves the nearly 16000 residents and additional 20000 visitors who spend time in Washburn County. I would be open to a multitude of schedule options, provided that Deputy and the public’s safety is maintained or improved, response times are maintained, and the shifts could be implemented in a fiscally responsible manner.
Dennis Stuart: Thank you for continuing this online debate, I look forward to more in-depth questions relating to the issues facing Washburn County Citizens.
You should know that over the years the Deputies of Washburn County Patrol Division have been asking administration to consider changing the current Patrol schedule, asking for a 12 hour shift rotation as recently as the last contract negotiation. Not once during those years has administration sat down with the Deputies under their charge to have a conversation as to what could be done to alleviate the dissatisfaction and stress they are feeling. With that stated, I will answer the question in hopes that the questions going forward will be of more substance to the citizens of the County.
I believe there is an interest from the residents of Washburn County to support the change to 12-hour shifts for the Patrol Division. First and most importantly to you, being the reduction in response time when a Deputy is dispatched to an emergent call for service. The current patrol schedule has limited coverage meaning that one Patrol Deputy is on duty to respond to any call received by the dispatch center from 9:30 am to 10:00 am.
So, for example, if that Deputy is in Shell Lake it could take up to 45 minutes for them to reach the destination of the call for service safely, of course in this scenario assuming that the emergent call is perhaps in the Village of Minong. With 12-hour shifts that time frame with only one Deputy on duty to respond to calls for service can be eliminated.
I am sure the public can agree on the importance of officer safety. With only one Deputy on duty, the potential for a safety concern in regard to a single Deputy response increases. Back-up units would have to be called in to start a shift early, again increasing the risk to the Deputy during the time that they are left on their own. In this day and age, we know the importance of Law Enforcement having back-up if needed and not having to wait for it.
I do believe that our residents care about the Deputies and their well-being. With a 12-hour shift schedule, Deputies are afforded the much needed and earned time off to be with their families, and to rest. Law Enforcement is different from other jobs; Deputies are working nights, weekends, and holidays. Many times Deputies are working on days off for court, meetings, or training. This can oftentimes stretch through their days off and then into their next work week. 12-hour shifts allow the time off for Deputies in their normal schedule to do things like attend family functions and be involved with community events, without needing to take time off and create overtime by having open shifts to fill.
2: Do you believe a 12-hour shift is cost-effective?
Mike Richter: As a basic shift, 12 hours are as cost-effective as 8 hours or 10 hours. There are 24 hours in a day and it doesn’t matter how you divide that day. Under Federal law, the County can establish the work period that triggers when overtime is accrued. As long as shifts are being paid out at straight time wages, the shift length has no impact.
Dennis Stuart: Yes, I have conducted research on the financial impact of a 12-hour shift schedule and have reached out to different agencies that are currently working 12-hour shifts. Deputies work 2080 hours per year regardless if they are working an 8-hour shift or a 12-hour shift. I am confident that in working with the Patrol Deputy’s Union, we can create a cost effective 12-hour shift schedule/contract that is fiscally responsible and improves Deputy’s work/home life, while still providing efficient and professional Law Enforcement services to Washburn County residents and visitors.
I would recommend the Pitman Schedule with Kelly Days where every pay period (14 days) each Deputy works one 8-hour shift or two 10-hour shifts. This would make every pay period 80 hours. This does NOT increase the budget, and the Deputies would ultimately work less shifts compared to an 8-hour shift schedule.
Another interesting piece of this is that administration has known for some time that 12-hour shifts have been proven not only to help keep Deputies healthy, but to save taxpayer monies. Not once has the current administration discussed this with the Deputies or the citizens to get their thoughts. It has been a two man show for too long. Washburn County is in need of a leader who will stand up for what is right for both the Office of the Sheriff and the citizens of Washburn County. To this day, even though there is admittedly something better for both employees and for the taxpayer, change is continuously halted.
3: Do you believe a 12-hour shift will increase or decrease overtime?
Mike Richter: Overtime will be increased. At the Sheriff’s Office, We like all other emergency services organizations struggle to hire and retain part-time staff. Few part-time deputies combined with the current contractual language will dictate that a large amount of open shifts that are filled will be paid at time and one half the regular rate of pay. Overtime pay on an 8 hour shift is equal to 12 hours of straight time pay. Overtime on a 12 hour shift is equal to 18 hours of straight time pay. Open shifts created due to vacation, training, sick days, or comp. time filled by full-time deputies would require pay out equal to 18 hours of pay. The additional 6 hours of pay I am talking about in this discussion would also require the county to pay additional FICA taxes.
- Base rate $25.29x8 + 15% FICA & WI Retirement: $232.66
- Replacement Rate $25.29x12 + 15% FICA & Retirement: $349.00
- Total cost: $581.66
12 Hr. Shift
- Base Rate $25.29x12 + 15% FICA & Retirement: $349.00
- Replacement Rate $25.29x18 + 15% FICA & Retirement: $523.50
- Total Cost: $872.50
The above examples show the cost difference between 8 & 12 hour shifts when a vacation day is taken, and the open shift is filled at time and one half according to union contract.
When discussing alternate shifts, decisions regarding staff training would have to be explored. Deputy training is generally delivered in 8 hour blocks. On a 12 hour schedule, a deputy would either be 4 hours short on time that day, or they would be compensated 12 hours pay for 8 hours of training. These determinations would take place during contract negotiations or talks with the union representatives. If a full-time deputy replaced a deputy gone to training, the replacement would be compensated 18 hours of pay for 12 hours of work.
Dennis Stuart: Agencies that have transitioned into 12-hour shifts have seen a decrease in use of sick time and reduction in overtime. Of all shift work schedules 8, 10, and 12-hour shifts; 12-hour shifts have the fewest shifts. Fewer shifts to fill mean less overtime, with 8-hour shifts creating the most overtime. With the Deputies having more time off they have the needed time for rest, and, if in the event that they do become ill, it is more likely to land on their scheduled days off and not need the use of sick time.
With the Pitman Schedule Deputies would work two days, and they have two days off. They return to work for three days, and they have two days off. They return to work two days and have three days off, this makes for 7 12-hour shifts in 14 days. This schedule gives the Deputies every other weekend off. Under the current schedule Deputies are working six days in a row and then have three days off. With this style rotation schedule the Deputy gets a weekend off, or a part of a weekend off, approximately every two months; but for that month, and the weeks rotating, they would have the weekend or part of the weekend for three weeks.
Another downfall of the 8-hour shift that I see is for the Deputies working night Patrol shifts. Meetings, training, and court are all typically handled during daytime business hours Monday through Friday. A Deputy may get done with work at 8am and then have to try to sleep or stay awake for an 11 am court proceeding. Once at court it could take fifteen minutes or maybe an hour and a half. The Deputy returns home and time that they would have been spending with family in the evening, is now spent sleeping to prepare for that night of work, or, the Deputy wakes up early so that they can have some family time, thus neglecting the necessary sleep that they should have gotten. I am not going to deny that the same scenario could also happen with an 8-hour shift schedule, but, there is less of a chance of the mentioned scenario occurring with more weekdays off duty.
4: Do you believe a 12-hour shift will increase or decrease patrol time/coverage?
Mike Richter: Once again the specific rotation of a 12 hour shift is imperative in determining patrol coverage and response times. Because of our current patrol staffing levels, most 12 hour models would have most of the schedule covered by 2 deputies. Current 8 hour models have 3 and 4 deputies on a shift during parts of the day. Obviously, 4 deputies would have faster response times and would be safer for the deputies getting back-up quicker, considering that we cover 850 square miles in Washburn County.
Dennis Stuart: Making sure that the County is adequately covered and receives service as quickly as possible is my goal. I also want to ensure that the Deputies under my charge are never alone on the road. In regard to a possible shift change for current Deputies in Washburn County, my goal as your next Sheriff is to ultimately increase service while maintaining Officer Safety. With 12-hour shifts there are fewer shift changes, which creates more time on patrol instead of Deputies transitioning on and off duty. 12-hour shifts would nearly eliminate single Deputy coverage.
It would also be important to consider what type of schedule the Deputies and administration agree on, always taking into account current staff levels and community needs. When scheduled properly, there would be a built in overlap of shifts, allowing the off going officer time to complete reports and pertinent paperwork without affecting coverage of the County.
5: What impact does a 12-hour shift have, if any, on officer safety?
Mike Richter: There are numerous studies on the effects of shift work on employees. Be it nurses, factory workers, or law enforcement, shift work takes a toll on the body. The extended shifts have been studied by insurance companies, doctors, and managers over the past 30 years. Some general findings across all of these disciplines are that fatigue is cumulative, meaning the more extended shifts that are worked in succession and the more negative symptoms are observed. In a factory setting, the last hour in a 12 hour shift experiences more injuries than the first 11 hours totaled. Work performance declines over the course of the shift (this is countered in the factory by performance incentives to maintain production).
Specific to law enforcement, a study was conducted putting officers on 8, 10, and 12 hour shifts. During the course of the study, interviews on shift satisfaction were conducted. Officer feedback indicated that they were overwhelmingly happy with the 12 hour shifts. The greatest benefit mentioned was time off from work.
Objective testing was compiled on the officers measuring physiological effects by the following tests: Pupil response to measure fatigue, Behavioral assessment to measure personal interactions, a driving simulator, psychomotor vigilance test to measure reaction time, and a shooting simulator. The objective test results were contrary to the officer feedback data. Driving, shooting, and fatigue are key elements to officer safety. It doesn’t take fancy testing for most people to surmise that on an officer’s third day of 12 hour shifts, in hour 11, driving over 100 mph, fighting for your life, or having your reaction time impaired could lead to injury or death.
Exploring alternate shifts would be a great mission for the committee I spoke about forming with line supervision and peer choices to engage in solving issues such as this one, and bringing suggestions to the Sheriff. The criteria should always be officer safety, Service to the County Citizen’s, and fiscal responsibility, in that order.
Dennis Stuart: There are different perspectives and studies on this topic. For every negative study against 12-hour shifts, there is always a positive one. While I am taking into consideration facts shown by several of these studies, I would much rather talk with the Deputies to get their opinions and feelings on the matter, and work with them to develop a schedule that they are comfortable with. Remember, it is important to me that this change not affect the Deputies or the community’s safety in any negative fashion. 12-hour shifts are nothing new. Medical and industrial fields have been utilizing them for years.
I would also say that nothing is ever without review. Should a change be implemented in the future, myself and Deputies would certainly take a look at what is working and what may not be. If changes have to be made then they can be made. Again, my priority is to the community and the Deputies. The health and overall well-being of my office is important to me, as are the needs of the community we serve together.
It is incredibly important to note again that the Patrol Deputies in Washburn County have been asking for a schedule change for many years. Administration has been presented with shift schedules asking that they be considered. Administration has refused to discuss any change. Six shifts on with three shifts off is an impossible schedule, yet our Deputies have been doing it for years. With an incredibly high burnout rate and low Law Enforcement recruiting, it is important that we take care of the Deputies that are working hard to serve us. It is time to take a serious look at what benefits them.
6: What impact does a 12-hour shift have, if any, on the County’s liability?
Mike Richter: My above answers indirectly address liability issues. Injury to our deputies or our citizens due to actions resulting from fatigue will place the county in a precarious position regarding liability. Public safety is a primary service provided by the Sheriff’s Office. Risk management is crucial in delivering continued public safety.
Dennis Stuart: An argument could be made that this is a long period of time for Deputies to be patrolling / working. Having seen the negative studies towards 12-hour shifts, they talk about reaction time and how the shifts are dangerous. However, there have been times in the past that Deputies worked 16 hours. Then off for 8 hours and then return to work, at times spanning weeks without days off between shifts to cover for other scheduling conflicts. As a leader, I see more of a liability with this practice than working 12 hour shifts. I personally feel, and having listened to conversations with others, that there is more of a "drag" on the Deputies knowing they are on day three and have three more to go, and they have court tomorrow.
The liability that could be eliminated for the County is the use of mutual-aid when there is not another Deputy on the road to assist. When another department is called out on mutual-aid to assist one of the County Deputies the County becomes liable for that officer. I realize there are times that we have to assist other departments and they assist us, but it should never be because there is not another County car on duty.
7: Do you believe a 12-hour shift is good for the employee/deputy?
Mike Richter: With the idea of spending more time off with your families, this is a good thing. The question is the risk worth the reward? I am relatively certain that there are no family members willing to risk their loved ones safety for extra days off. 12 hour shifts can be an acceptable schedule, provided the staffing levels support it. Pushing 12 hour shifts with low staffing levels, in order have additional time off, is not in my mind a responsible decision. Sometimes leadership is not popular or appreciated, but is necessary to serve the best interests of our public and deputies.
Dennis Stuart: Definitely. I have reached out to several of the Deputies wives. They have all said the same; our kids want to see their father, and I'd like to see my husband. Deputies are people just like anyone else. They want to have time with their families. They want to be able to plan family outings. On a Pitman 12-hour schedule they might not be able to plan something to do this weekend because they work, but then next weekend they have off and might be able to plan it then. On their current schedule, unless they are going to take vacation time, they might be waiting two months for a weekend off.
I've spoken to employees of Police Agencies in Washburn County who have been working the Pitman 12-hour schedule for a number of years now. They've expressed to me how their quality of life has improved, and that they would not hesitate to go from 8 to 12 hour shifts. I was unable to find any departments that have gone to 12-hour shifts that have went back to an 8.
Surprisingly, the Jail and Dispatch Division in Washburn County recently did change to a 12-hour shift schedule. Prior to that shift change, administration required that the vote for the change had to be unanimous amongst Jail Deputies and Dispatchers, likely thinking that 30 people could never agree. That employee vote was unanimous in favor of change.
Take note that administration previously reported that starting shifts between the hours of 4 am and 6 am could cause harm to the health of their employees and possible change in their behavior patterns. With this knowledge administration chose to begin the shift for the Jail and Dispatch Division at 4 am. Why would a proven leader do such a thing? If you know something is harmful, and have made argument against it, why would you then put that very practice into place with your own staff?
During my recent research I read that “One technique to reduce the disruption of daily rhythms is not to begin a shift between the hours of 4 and 6 am”. I can see why some might find it suspicious that starting the Jail and Dispatch Division at 4 am could contribute to the failure of the 12-hour shift change. With my duty as your next Sheriff also being to run an efficient and effective Jail, I do intend to hold discussions with the Jail and Dispatch Division to ensure that their needs are also being properly met, as they are the first contact the public has in an emergency.