To improve efficiency and morale, uniformed officers of the Alexandria Police Department soon will stop working seven days in a row before getting two days off and will change to a schedule of for days on and two days off, according to Chief Charles T. Strobel.
The scheduling change, only the third one in 20 years, is part of a growing trend around the country to bring "participatory management" to the level of the beat patrol officers. In the case of the Alexandria police force, for example, the change was made after senior officers encouraged their patrol officers to vote on the type of new schedule they would like.
The change, which must be formally approved by City Manager Douglas Harmon, also is part of a series of administrative changes initiated by Strobel since he became chief a year ago.
"We expected the change will increase efficiency and help moral," Strobel, a 20-year veteran of the Alexandria police department, said recently."It will create permanent (hourly) shifts in which the officers regularly work the same hours in the same location." Under the present system, an officer works mornings one week, afternoons the next week and evenings the next week, he said.
The new schedule "will give us accountability for the officer's performance and enable each patrolman to be far more responsive to the needs of the area he serves," Strobel added.
Under the new procedure, officers will work the same number of hours as they had been but, because of the bookkeeping method used by the department, will actually receive 14 more days of weekend time each year, he said.
The cost to the city will be several thousand additional dollars for administrative expenses, Strobel said.
"The change will enable us to put the majority of our people on duty during the evening and night shifts, when demand for police service is greatest," said Capt. Arlen Justice, head of the 120-officer uniformed division. The change is expected to promote efficiency because officers will not be as tired at the end of the four-day shift as they often are now after working a seven-day shift, he said.
The shift change, expected to be instituted next month, was brought about after a vote several weeks ago by a special panel within the department that was organized to examine alternate scheduling possibilities, Justice said.
"It really felt good to have a say in our jobs," said patrolman R. J. McBride, a member of the panel. "Management was very concerned about our perspective and seriously considered our opinions. By that sixth or seventh day you're so tired you miss little things, like the guy walking around outside a store, or a car that's never been parked in the neighborhood before. It was good for morale having an input."
The concepts of asking beat patrolmen their opinions, letting them vote on administrative changes are "part of the general thrust of professionalism in police departments during the past 10 years," said Paul Watson, chief of the management science unit at the FBI police academy at Quantico, Va., which annually trains 1,000 high-ranking police officers in business-oriented management techniques.
"Police chiefs are listening more to their men than ever before because there is a wealth of information out there (in the ranks). Senior people are getting away from the old autocratic way of doing things" that was common in police departments in years past, Watson said.
Other area police departments use similar management techniques, though none apparently has ever submitted an entire scheduling shift to a vote of its officers.
According to various spokesmen, Montgomery County officers were surveyed on the use of bullet proof vests, while in Prince George's County the opinion of the police association was sought before a scheduling change was made. In Fairfax County, officers' opinions are asked before promotion tests are given, and in the District of Columbia the only officers in one district who come on duty after midnight are those who request the assignment.
Since beginning chief last September, Strobel has hired 14 civilian employes to replace officers doing office work, thereby freeing the officers for street duty. He also has changed the manner in which statistics are stored and analyzed.
The Alexandria Police Department has 228 officers and an annual budget of $7.14 million.