Monday, November 17, 2008
APD Officers Unhappy With New Schedules, Despite Improved Arrival Times
By T.J. Wilham
Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
Police have been getting to your door faster — but Police Chief Ray Schultz has been getting heat for that.
Schultz changed the work schedules for most officers in April, assigning them to work five days a week instead of four 10-hour days. The main reason, he said, was to improve response times.
As a result, officers have been vocal in opposition of the change, criticizing Schultz at staff meetings and on Internet blogs.
But the unpopular decision appears to be paying off.
When compared with 2007, the average response times have dropped 38 percent. Some of that improved response, according to APD, is because of the new schedule.
Priority 1 calls — which involve an immediate threat to life or property — have improved by 13 percent.
"It was a very tough decision, because a lot of the officers have come to rely on the 4/10 schedule, but we do work for the taxpayers," Schultz said. "Our job is to provide a high quality of service for our citizens."
Schultz said the schedule change is just one of the reasons for the reduction in response times.
This year, the department also:
• Added a sixth area command (which is similar to a precinct).
• Implemented an online system that allows residents to file theft reports.
• Hired more officers.
The police department has also been implementing a new computer system. One phase, which allows supervisors to see a list of pending calls, went into effect earlier this year.
"The new schedule has played a big part, but it's not just that," Schultz said. "Officers, sergeants and radio operators have been working extremely hard to clear calls. There are also officers who review calls that are holding and often volunteer to take calls themselves without even being dispatched."
Ron Olivas, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association — the collective bargaining unit — said the schedule change was one of the most unpopular decisions Schultz has made in his administration.
Officers have complained to Olivas and others about being fatigued, having to find child care an extra day a week or not having a third day off to moonlight.
Officers who work nights have complained about having to show up for court hearings immediately after their shifts and on their days off, thus forcing them to work more overtime.
"We are all concerned about response times," Olivas said. "Officers care about these things, and they are concerned about it because it is their safety that is at stake on every call. But they all want to know if there is any way we can go back to 4/10s and still keep the response times low."
Police officials said that is unlikely to happen for all officers.
Schultz said that, as the department continues to grow, he is going to look at putting some officers, such as those who work nights, back to 4/10s.
APD has been in a response-time crisis the past several years.
Since 2002, response times have increased. Last year, on average, it took APD 8.9 minutes to get to top priority calls. It took an average of 24.5 minutes for all calls combined.
Since the new schedule was started, APD has been averaging 7.8 minutes for top priority calls and 15.2 minutes for all calls.
At its current pace, response times for 2008 would be the lowest in six years.
The problem made headlines in 2006 after Randi Regensberg, a 21-year-old pregnant woman, was killed.
On July 7, 2006, friends of Regensberg called 911 five times to report that she was in danger at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, Cory Kotrba, 28.
They reported that a neighbor had seen Regensberg dragged into the home. They told dispatchers that the back door to the home was blocked by a table, adding that Kotrba had guns and that Regensberg was being held against her will. Friends also told dispatchers there was a history of violence between the two.
But no officers were available to take the call, which wasn't classified top priority.
Police went to Kotrba's home in the 7700 block of Javelina SW only after the fifth call — and after Kotrba's roommate had arrived and allowed the friends inside where they found the couple dead.
The first call was placed at 7:51 p.m., the last one at 9:29 p.m.
Regensberg's family has since sued APD.
Albuquerque Chief Public Safety Officer Pete Dinelli said he supports Schultz, adding that the new schedules may be unpopular, but the move has been a smart business decision.
"Going back to 4/10s is not going to happen anytime soon," he said. "The bottom line is that this has improved response times, and that is key. It helps public safety, and that is the No. 1 priority of this administration.
"I hope the officers realize they work for the community. It is a change for them, but they have to realize that the majority of the population works five days a week."