Using my experience as a 32-year law enforcement veteran and a scheduling and workforce management consultant for InTime in the past 7 years, I have noticed processes around overtime that needs to change in the next five to 10 years. As society continues to change and generational differences become more present, we need to consider how we manage and view mandatory overtime in order to protect the mental health of our officers.
As we know, overtime has been a key part of policing for many decades. And I know that this process looks different for every agency. In most cases, the difference between viewing overtime as supplemental income or an evil necessity is based on how well agencies pay their employees. At Tigard Police Department where I worked as a Lieutenant for 22 years, we were paid quite well, so finding someone to work voluntary OT was a challenge and supervisors had to assign officers to work OT shifts.
Now, in the past 7 years helping other agencies with their scheduling and overtime process through InTime, I am noticing that many agencies still have processes where more tenured officers would have first pick of the preferable overtime shifts, leaving the undesirable ones to the least senior officers. This has become a common process to allocate mandated overtime. I have also witnessed agencies having an OT process where the number of times an officer could work overtime was unregulated. I believe agencies who still adopt these processes need to consider their overtime management as we continue to experience societal changes.
In the recent two to three years, there’s been societal changes that has changed the opinion of police work. And I foresee these societal changes to spark a need for unions and agencies to review their overtime policies in the next five to 10 years. In addition, I predict that agencies will need to heavily rely on tools that enable foresight into overtime demands to leverage voluntary OT rather than mandatory OT. And since mandatory OT cannot simply be eliminated, I foresee agencies requiring tools that can enable and enforce a healthier distribution of mandated overtime.
Dr. Mark Kirschner, a Clinical and Police Psychologist from my home state, Connecticut, explained that the mental health crisis officers face today is not what we might think. The current misconception is that PTSD has been the biggest issue. Specifically, PTSD resulting from one major incident. And while PTSD is still present, the more common issue is aggregate trauma syndrome. This is the notion that trauma is built up over time through repeated exposure to jarring situations.
I have noticed that there have been movements of civil unrest, seemingly endless amounts of negative press, and a lack of support for police work. Along with the generational factor of officers who are working today, this is resulting in a myriad of recruitment and retention issues which leads to a lack of resources. This challenge that agencies are faced with today is leading them to distribute more mandatory overtime. In short, the desire to work in policing have decreased, but the policies around mandatory overtime has stayed the same. And it’s important to note that nowadays, officers do not want to work OT not because they are being paid well and that they don’t need the supplemental income, but because of the negative environment that is becoming increasingly apparent in this line of work. This is resulting in officers who don’t have a desire to work, but are repeatedly exposed to jarring situations, which aggravates burnout, fatigue, and trauma. And in some cases, they are forced to work mandatory overtime shifts on short notice.
There is a need to review and adapt the way agencies force mandated overtime to suit the current societal trends and generational differences. In fact, seeing as how this trend will only be continuing, I encourage agencies to review their union policies to align with the current challenges faced today. Is your agency or union still allocating mandatory OT to those in the lowest rank? Do you have a process that enforces a fair and healthy rule around overtime to protect the lives of your officers?
In my time in Tigard PD, I used InTime, a scheduling and workforce management tool that helps with these issues. And for the past 7 years working for InTime, I have been exposed to a broader perspective of the challenges agencies are facing. This experience of helping hundreds of agencies with their scheduling and overtime management, along with Dr. Kirschner’s research, has led me to these conclusions.
A part of this issue is the lack of visibility into all hours worked and planned. By having this visibility into future staffing shortfalls weeks ahead into the schedule, agencies can leverage the use of voluntary OT. By filling up slots for officers who have a willingness to work overtime, reduces the number of mandatory OT needed and prevents assigning to those who don’t want to work. In addition, this visibility allows agencies to assign mandatory OT in advance to prevent last-minute surprises for officers. By allowing officers time to plan and adapt, there is less stress in their personal life, reducing the accumulation of burnout. Lastly, I believe it’s going to be increasingly important to adopt a tool that intelligently enforces a fair and healthy mandatory OT rule, eliminating human error and bias. This also helps in eliminating officers from working too much overtime, too repetitively.
In my opinion, it communicates to their staff that administration is prioritizing employee wellbeing and fairness by adopting technology that enforces equality and accountability. And I believe this improves employee morale when everyone knows the system is fair.
A great example that I personally witnessed is the University of Kentucky Police Department (UKPD). The UKPD suffered from excessive mandatory OT that was inefficiently managed, leading officers to burnout and the agency to experience huge turnover. After implementing a scheduling and workforce management tool to better manage their overtime, they were able to significantly reduce their turnover.
“One of our biggest improvements is significant reduction of agency turnover, officers were not getting burned out from fatigue. It helped us manage our officer fatigue issue, and most importantly, it enabled us to boost and improve our employee morale.”
– Chief Joe Monroe, UKPD
Compared to my time as a Lieutenant, I think police work nowadays is more complicated, but the nature of the work hasn’t changed. It’s still a necessity and a crucial role to protect one’s community. And while I do suggest agencies speak with their unions, I understand that this is not easy. However, I firmly believe that this is a worthwhile cause for the benefit of employees’ health. Changes like this must be made to protect the integrity of policing and ensure those wanting to go into the profession that it’s safe and healthy.
About the Author
Ricky S. Rhodes is a 32-year law enforcement veteran who retired from the Tigard Police Department in Tigard, Oregon, in 2014 spending the last 15 years of his career as a member of the command staff. Notably, in 2009 he was selected as the Interim Chief of Police for the Gervais Police Department in Oregon and is a 2005 graduate of the FBI National Academy. Previously, he served as a deputy sheriff with the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon. Since his retirement, he has been working for InTime in implementation and training and is currently an Account Executive in the northeast U.S.