COLUMBIA, Mo. - At the Columbia Police Department, what's old is new again.
Patrol officers voted last month to change the hours they work, from a 12-hour shift to a 10-hour work day. They will start working the new shift on January 15.
Chief Ken Burton briefed the Columbia Citizens Police Review Board on a variety of issues Wednesday night, including the patrol schedule. A Columbia Police Officers Association survey released this summer showed low morale within the department, with many officers citing the 12-hour schedule CPD switched to earlier this year. The department paid a consulting firm to analyze its schedule to improve response times for the understaffed police force, and recommended moving the 12 hour shift start times from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m.
CPD employed a 10-hour shift when Burton first arrived in Columbia in 2009, he told the board. However, he remained skeptical the new hours would be worthwhile. The timing of the shifts may cause longer response times at certain times of the day, Burton said, and officers will have to work harder on their shifts to cover the calls.
"But they seem to think that it was better for their home life, and things like that, so I'm committed to try and make it work," Burton said.
The CPOA survey contained anonymous responses from officers about the department. Many said the switch from 6 to 8 as the start time gave officers some of the busiest hours of the day for police in Columbia, straining the available officers, which Burton said sometimes amounts to less than ten for a whole shift. Working four ten-hour shifts is not as efficient, the chief said, but would be happy to try it if officers felt it would improve morale.
"And I truly believe that in six months, we'll be talking about it again," Burton said. "Because the officers are going to be saying we don't have enough cops, we're working too hard. I fully expect that to happen."
For the last several years, CPD has changed how it responds to certain calls, encouraging people to report non-injury traffic crashes online. Burton said they've asked store owners to report certain shoplifting cases online, as well. Some city leaders, including Mayor Brian Treece, have estimated the city could use as many as 50 officers to bring the department within federal guidelines on staffing. Burton and other members of the board said a more helpful metric was the need for six officers to recreate the effect of having just one officer on the street for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Recent shootings of police officers, according to Burton, make it a tough time to work in law enforcement. The profession faced further scrutiny since the 2014 killing of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Mo. police officer, and large-scale protests in major cities followed other shootings by police officers. Burton said whatever they could do to try and improve morale, despite his skepticism on the shift changes, was worth looking into.
"It's a tough time to be a cop, so if this will help a little bit, then I'm willing to at least give it a try," Burton said.