Tuesday, January 02, 2001

Councilman wants cops rotated


Says too little experience when it's needed most

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Dial 911 on Cincinnati's west side and the police officer who responds likely will have less than five years' experience on the force.

        The same holds true for emergency calls between 3-11 p.m.

        That's because patrol officers with the least number of years on the force are being assigned the most difficult shifts.

        An Enquirer analysis of police staffing shows more than half of the city's patrol officers, 291 out of 541, have been on the force five years or less.

        But officers with more than five years on the force mostly work the day shift in each of the city's five police districts, a choice they are given in contracts with the city.

        While the numbers are highest in the city's two west-side police districts — where 75 percent of officers working the “second shift” in District 3 and 85 percent in District 5 have been on the force less than five years — it is a trend throughout the city.

        Police officials say it's not a concern and call it an issue of seniority.

        But City Councilman Paul Booth calls it a serious problem, one reflected in the Nov. 7 death of Roger Owensby, who was asphyxiated while in the custody of officers.

        The five officers involved — who are on administrative leave and the subject of a grand jury investigation — all were working the second shift and all had been on the force less than five years.

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        “I think the problem is clear,” Mr. Booth said. “Lack of years on the force relates to experience. ... We have to do something to fix the problem.”

        His solution is a proposal that would force senior officers to rotate through every shift instead of being assigned to permanent time slots.

        “There is a serious disparity throughout the Cincinnati Police Division with regard to the number of experienced officers that work on the first shift versus the number of experienced officers that work on second shift,” Mr. Booth said in a motion he will ask City Council to consider this month.

        Calling the second shift the city's “busiest and most crime-ridden,” Mr. Booth is asking that experienced officers to be rotated for no less than one year.

        The police union president and top department administrators say there's nothing wrong; that simply because officers have less than five years' experience doesn't mean they are unable to do their jobs.

        And they say they will fight any plan to change the way the department is staffed.

        “I don't care how many ordinances or motions Mr. Booth wants to propose,” said Keith Fangman, Fraternal Order of Police union president. “He's not changing our contract. He doesn't have that kind of authority.”

        He said the contract between the city and the police union “is written in stone,” and was ratified by City Council just two weeks ago.

        Mr. Booth disagrees, saying the contract gives the police chief discretion to change shifts. And that's what City Council should tell the chief to do, he said.

        Police administrators said the issue is more complicated. While the contract does give the chief leeway, the department has lost arbitration hearings when officers are moved out of a chosen shift.

        “That's not a place we want to go,” Lt. Col. Richard Janke said, adding there isn't a problem with current staffing.

        But rotating shifts could create some, he said.

        “By all measures, we are doing a good job,” he said.

        Acknowledging that the second shift has heavier call volumes, he disputes that officers aren't responding correctly. Despite the Owensby case, which hasn't been adjudicated, he said nothing indicates that officers with more than five years' experience would respond differently to various calls.

        Assuming otherwise is ludicrous and based on faulty logic, Lt. Col. Janke said.

        Officers are now assigned shifts based on workloads, with more officers on the second shift than the first shift because the department fields more calls at night than it does during the day.

        Under a rotation, Lt. Col. Janke said, each shift would have to be equally staffed so officers could move from one shift to another. While a partial rotation can be used, he said it creates supervision problems, with officers forming cliques and no regular supervisor to provide oversight.

        “What is an experienced police officer?” he said. “You could be a cop four or five years before you experience what one of our cops experiences in six months.”

        The same is true when comparing shifts, he said.

        A report by Safety Director Kent Ryan shows second-shift patrol officers average 4.4 years on the force. Day-shift officers average 12.2 years and night shift 7.6 years. On two other shifts that span the morning and night shifts in some districts, officers average five and seven years.

        At first glance the numbers are “startling,” Mr. Fangman said. But in a few years there will be a better balance in the department.

        He said the situation was caused by hiring freezes in the late 1980s and several waves of retirement in the last few years.

        Attempting to change the staffing from a seniority-based system will wreak havoc on officers' personal lives, he said.

        Mr. Booth admits his proposal will not be popular with all officers, but said that's not his first concern.

        “Maybe it will keep another of these incidents (such as Mr. Owensby's death) from happening.”

       



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