Police departments are often faced with the challenge of balancing staffing levels and workload demands. This is especially true during times of increased crime or other emergencies that require more police presence. One solution that every police department turns to is overtime, either mandatory or voluntary. But which approach is better? And how can police departments effectively manage both types of overtime to ensure the safety of their officers and the public?
It’s important to first understand the difference between forced overtime and voluntary overtime. Forced overtime, also referred to as mandatory overtime, is when a police officer is required to work extra hours beyond their normal shift. This is typically used when there is a staffing shortage or emergency situation that requires immediate attention. Voluntary overtime, on the other hand, is when an officer is scheduled to work extra hours in advance. This is often used to cover special events or other planned activities.
Mandatory overtime can be effective in addressing short-term staffing needs, but it also carries many negative consequences. For example, police officers who are required to work additional hours may become fatigued and make mistakes on the job. This can lead to safety risks for both police officers and the public. Mandatory overtime can also lead to low morale and burnout among officers, which can ultimately result in recruitment issues, decreased job satisfaction and low police officer retention. Additionally, mandatory overtime also carries a hefty financial burden on taxpayers, especially if a department’s overtime expenditures exceed the overtime amount allocated in the annual budget.
Voluntary overtime, on the other hand, can help prevent these negative consequences by allowing officers to plan ahead for additional work hours. This can also help ensure officers are rested and prepared for their extra duties. However, voluntary overtime can also have drawbacks. For example, if a scheduled event is canceled or rescheduled, officers may be left with unused overtime and lost pay. It can also be challenging to ensure your assignment process it’s as equitable and fair as possible. The last thing you want in your police department is suspected potential bias.
Regardless of the type of overtime, police departments across the nation are seeing their overtime hours increase drastically in the last decade. One audit of the San Jose, California, Police Department found average police officer overtime had doubled since 2008. The reasons for the increase in overtime include low police retention, increased demand for security at public events, low recruitment rates, baby boomers retiring and more.
So, how can police departments effectively manage overtime to ensure the safety of their officers and the public? Here are a few strategies for both mandatory and voluntary overtime:
Mandatory overtime can be a helpful tool for police departments to maintain staffing levels during times of increased demand, unexpected events, or police officer shortages. However, it can also lead to fatigue and burnout among officers, as well as strain relationships with officers who may feel like their time is not being respected.
If your police department has no choice but to mandate overtime, there are steps you can take to make mandatory overtime better for your police officers. To make mandatory overtime work effective, your police leaders must establish clear policies and guidelines for when it will be used and how it will be managed.
Here are three strategies for making mandatory overtime work within your police department:
Plan ahead and stay organized
Police departments should try their best to use mandatory overtime sparingly. While mandatory overtime can be an effective short-term solution, it should be used sparingly and only when absolutely necessary. This will help prevent burnout and low morale among officers.
Planning ahead is crucial in making mandatory overtime work within your police department. Police departments should strive to minimize the amount of forced overtime by implementing efficient scheduling practices and regularly evaluating staffing needs. Planning ahead also includes establishing criteria for determining when mandatory overtime is necessary, such as when staffing levels fall below a certain threshold or during emergencies.
Police scheduling software is one of the best tools available to plan ahead. By using automated scheduling software, administrators can look at past reports and dashboards to best predict future staffing needs. This scheduling visibility tells your administrators which patrol units need more staff during certain hours, and which departments or units need less.
Make sure mandatory overtime is fairly distributed
When forced overtime is necessary, police departments should prioritize fairness by rotating the assignments among officers and ensuring that everyone still has adequate time off to rest and recharge. One of the most damaging effects of mandatory overtime is sleep deprivation. Police departments that require mandatory overtime need to ensure overtime assignments are fairly distributed amongst every officer. The best police department is a healthy and well-rested police department.
Prioritize police officer safety
Regardless of whether overtime is mandatory or voluntary, it’s crucial to prioritize the safety of officers. This means monitoring fatigue levels, providing adequate breaks, and ensuring your police officers have the necessary equipment and training to handle their duties.
Finally, police departments should provide support for officers who are required to work mandatory overtime, including access to mental health resources and adequate compensation for their time. By taking these steps, police departments can make mandatory overtime an effective temporary tool for managing staffing levels while also prioritizing the well-being of their officers.
Voluntary overtime is a more flexible option for managing staffing needs within a police department. It allows police officers to volunteer for additional shifts or assignments, rather than mandating overtime. However, it can create issues if officers feel pressured to take on too much additional work or if certain officers are consistently given more opportunities than others.
To make voluntary police overtime work, it’s important to establish clear guidelines and policies for how it will be managed. This should include procedures for how officers can volunteer for additional shifts or assignments, as well as guidelines for how those opportunities will be distributed fairly among officers.
Here are three strategies for making voluntary overtime work within your police department:
Monitor police overtime usage
It’s important to monitor overtime usage to ensure that it’s being used effectively and efficiently. This can include tracking the number of hours worked, the reasons for overtime and being aware of which staff members or sworn officers are working the most overtime within your department. Similar to mandatory overtime, implementing police scheduling software is one of the best ways to monitor police overtime usage.
Create a positive culture around police overtime
Police departments should work to create a positive culture around voluntary overtime, encouraging officers to volunteer when they are able and recognizing the contributions of those who do. This can be done through incentives such as bonuses or other rewards, as well as through regular communication and feedback with officers about their contributions.
Police departments should ensure that officers who take on voluntary overtime are adequately compensated and provided with the resources and support they need to manage their workload effectively. This may include access to mental health resources or additional training, as well as reasonable compensation for their time and effort.
Ensure your overtime assignment process is fair and equitable
Similar to mandatory overtime, it’s important to ensure your voluntary overtime process is as fair and equitable as possible. Not only will this reduce the likelihood of perceived unfairness or bias within your police department, but it will also ensure your officers remain healthy. While extra overtime can have great financial incentives, it can be extremely challenging mentally and physically.
To ensure your overtime assignment process is fair and equitable, consider using an automated overtime management tool. An automated overtime management tool will automatically assign overtime based on agency rules, reducing the likelihood of perceived bias and fatigue risk. Police departments can input their maximum overtime thresholds, and the automated scheduling system automatically chooses an officer based on seniority, hours worked and agency rules.
Final thoughts on police overtime
By taking these steps, police departments can create a culture of fairness and equity around mandatory and voluntary overtime. While overtime is an inevitable part of the job, police departments need to take the proper steps to improve the overtime experience for all of their staff and sworn personnel.
Contact our team to learn more about our overtime management solutions and how they can benefit your police department.