Top 7 Misconceptions about Public Safety Scheduling

Here are the top 7 misconceptions about public safety scheduling software:

Automated scheduling solutions for public safety agencies have been proven over more than 20 years. Yet for many agencies, their value is casually waved away as unimportant. At a time when these agencies – especially police departments – are under greater pressure to defend their budgets, agency planners hamstring themselves by relying on homegrown, error-prone processes for managing staff assignments and overtime budgets. Often these processes produce information that cannot hold up to the scrutiny of budget authorities, media, and policy advocates. Such situations increase the likelihood of painful budget cuts and make achievement of the agency’s mission that much harder.

It is surprising to learn that many agencies, including some with large workforces, still depend on old-school methods. Below are the seven most common excuses they cite for sticking with time-intensive, unreliable processes to plan, allocate, and manage staff assignments and related performance criteria.

Spreadsheets Can Do The Job 

Spreadsheets are amazing. The ability to build complex models based on user-defined logic and calculations has forever changed how we think about analysis. But using spreadsheets for complex processes is like reaching for duct tape and vice grips to manage quick repairs. While they work in a pinch, they consistently fail over time.

Using spreadsheets to manage public safety staff planning is a mistake waiting to happen. Planning 24/7 schedules in a way that ensures effective coverage while maintaining compliance with departmental and union policies is hard. To do it well requires multiple, linked pages comprised of complex, dependency-driven formulas. Authors must have full confidence that all scenarios have been considered and addressed. An internally built spreadsheet must have excellent documentation, as the author’s availability cannot be guaranteed. Once built, spreadsheet models rely on manual data entry, a task that introduces potential errors as it passes from one source to another. Understanding performance against the plan – who showed up, who didn’t, and who logged too many consecutive shifts – requires creation of myriad reports, each of which must be validated separately for accuracy. If time efficiency and data accuracy are priorities, spreadsheet approaches will come up short.

The Municipality Has a System that Meets Our Needs

Municipalities are multi-faceted organizations, responsible for a wide range of services. Road repair, park maintenance, bylaw enforcement, building inspection, and other services, in addition to police, fire, and ambulance, require sophisticated systems to ensure availability of qualified staff to manage the task at hand. Rare is the municipality that has not invested in a generic workforce management system. But not all services carry the same expectations regarding staff availability, response, and training. Not surprisingly, generic workforce management systems lack the awareness – and experience-driven logic – of complex scheduling needs for police, fire, and ambulance services. While many departments are built around single shifts, first responders carry 24/7 complexity. Such departments are governed by specific, evolving, agency-based and union-driven requirements. They are intended to ensure staff and public safety, fairness, and respect for seniority. Incorporating such logic into a generic workforce solution requires expensive custom effort from external consultants, every time a change is needed.

Purpose-built workforce management solutions for public safety agencies provide awareness that generic solutions lack. While it may appear cost-effective to municipal IT departments to rely on a single tool, a one-size-fits-all approach ends up costing money in the long run, especially in terms of inefficiently used overtime budgets.

Public Safety Scheduling Is Too Complex for Off-the-Shelf Software

First responder and corrections services run on 24-hour clocks, seven days a week. Policies related to staff safety and compliance with carefully bargained union contracts requires a deep specialization in complex staffing scenarios. While generic workforce management solutions have trouble managing the intricate, overlapping requirements for public safety, purpose-built solutions thrive on them.

Consider some common scheduling challenges in public safety:

  • Court appearances. Court administrators operate by their own rules. They schedule cases and witnesses at their own convenience, and the witness must comply. For a police scheduler, keeping track of such assignments, which often come in the middle of a shift and which are frequently rescheduled, is a nightmare to track and plan efficiently.
  • Emergency unit creation. While some emergencies, given their brief duration, are addressed by an “all available hands on deck” approach, others require creation of temporary units and schedules, such as storm evacuation, rescue, and clean-up. The primary responsibilities to staff and the mission can’t be compromised simply because a natural disaster has placed unique, multi-day responsibilities on a subset of the department.
  • Dual-purpose agencies. Across the US, sheriffs’ departments typically carry dual responsibilities for the counties they serve – law enforcement and patrol, often in remote regions, and custody operations in fixed jail locations. While both rely on well-planned, 24/7 shift scheduling, the nature of each mission requires different planning flexibility and awareness. The frequent transfer of staff between each operation only adds to the challenge.

Smart agencies understand the complexity of scheduling and timekeeping. Yet if the assumption is that an off-the-shelf tool is less effective than generic or homegrown solutions, it is worth ten minutes to test your hunch. Rather than wave off such a solution based on limited understanding, a better approach is to take the time to see how an agency’s most complex challenges can be handled by a purpose-built solution which has been tested across hundreds of agencies and countless scenarios. If your hunch is really a blind spot, potentially increasing risk to staff safety and performance, finding out sooner is always better.

Scheduling Software Is Too Expensive

Scheduling software carries a price tag. Claiming that it is too expensive simply begs the question: Compared to what? Compared to the cost of multiple staff working full time to plan, communicate and adjust staff schedules? Compared to the cost of continual, excessive overtime expenditures? Compared to the cost of processes that cannot accurately manage the risk of officer fatigue?

Purpose-built solutions for a public safety workforce deliver rapid, measurable payback against tangible and intangible aspects of department management. Often, the assumption that they are too expensive is the result of not asking the right questions.

Scheduling and Timekeeping Are Two Different Solutions

Different processes undertaken by different people are examples of different tasks. While each process shares certain data, different objectives drive their purpose. At a high level, scheduling focuses on planning for staff availability and assignments, while timekeeping focuses on verification that staff fulfilled the expectations of the shift.

While it is accurate to think of scheduling and timekeeping as separate processes, it is a mistake to assume that automation requires separate solutions. On the contrary, they are interdependent processes which should be integrated in a common solution. Given the data overlap, and the importance of quickly understanding schedule conflicts and missed assignments, it is essential to view these tools in integrated fashion.

Extra Duty and Regular Duty Can Be Managed Separately

It’s true. If the agency relies on spreadsheets, it is almost certain that these extra duty and regular duty are managed in separate information silos. But given the importance of public and staff safety, the questions to ask are why manage them separately? Are there intelligent reasons for managing them together?

These tasks can and should be managed by an integrated scheduling and timekeeping system. While extra duty is an effective way for officers to gain extra pay, it still represents a demand on time. The financial benefit drives some to sign up for excessive extra duty, often on the heels of operational shifts, despite the increased risks associated with officer fatigue.

Public safety agencies understand their primary mission and the importance of having a well rested staff. They make better decisions. They reduce risks to themselves, their partners, and the public. By managing regular and extra duty in the same purpose-built solution, agencies can highlight overcommitted, overworked officers and intervene before fatigue results in an avoidable incident.

Change Management Is Difficult and Not Worth the Effort

Change management is hard. Human nature seeks comfort in established routines; we often lean on the adage “if it ain’t broke…” Yet the best leaders inherently know that change is essential to keep key components of a public safety agency sharp. They don’t drive change for the sake of change – rather, they seek innovation and improvement to produce desirable, measurable outcomes. Situational response tactics change over time, based on performance analysis and shared best practices. Agencies continually evolve to implement evidence-based practices that will help better achieve their fundamental mission.

Adoption of a purpose-built scheduling and timekeeping solution involves change. These systems impact planning staff, front line operational staff and back office administrators alike, as they must embrace an automated system for capturing data, planning schedules, and communicating shifts. Such investments produce immediate, compelling benefits. Automation reduces reliance on error-prone manual processes, quickly identifies schedule conflicts and lack of compliance, and cuts down on overtime expenditures.

InTime Solutions is a leading provider of scheduling and timekeeping solutions purpose-built to address the broad complexity and accountability associated with public safety workforces. We have improved operational efficiency, overtime budget management, and risk profiles for hundreds of agencies – large and small – across North America. Our solutions save time, save money and improve public safety, and our customers are willing to attest.

Fiscal planning and workforce management in public safety agencies grows more complicated every year. As you grapple with that challenge within your own agency, it’s worth revisiting your assumptions for not investing in purpose-built scheduling and timekeeping solutions. The benefits will surprise you. To learn more, click the button below or call toll-free at 1-877-603-2830.

InTime Blog

Subscribe to our blog so you never miss an article.

Related Articles