D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey has decided to create a late-evening patrol shift citywide in an effort to boost crime-fighting efforts and answer more service calls, prompting widespread discontent among rank-and-file officers.
The new shift, known as a "power shift," will run from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. beginning Oct. 10. No additional officers will be placed on the street, Ramsey said. Instead, 2,000 current patrol officers will get a rotating schedule: days for 56 days, evenings for 56 days and then 28 days on the new late-evening shift.
Officers assigned to the midnight shift will not have to rotate, he said.
Over the years, more and more officers had been given prized day shifts and weekends off, Ramsey said. "I'm redeploying," the chief said yesterday. "The bottom line is we are not allocated properly across crime lines."
An internal police study this year found that the number of officers on duty late at night was 10 percent too low for the number of service calls during that period, Ramsey said.
The study also found that more officers in the District work Tuesdays and Wednesdays than over the weekend, he said. "This is not brain surgery here," he said. "I am simply trying to match our resources with our calls to service and workload, nothing more, nothing less."
But complaints have rippled through the 3,500-member department, from beat officers with family and child-care commitments that will be disrupted to commanders who believe that Ramsey's directive reduces their traditional authority over staffing in the city's seven patrol districts.
Critics within and outside the department also argue that the push to have identical police shifts across the city is insensitive to the differing policing needs of each District neighborhood.
"It's a solution in search of a problem, and it will do nothing more than drive already-low morale through the floor," said Carl T. Rowan Jr., a former FBI agent and a vocal critic of the department.
Police interviewed from across the District said patrol officers on the current evening shift, which typically ends at 11 p.m., already have a difficult time making it to D.C. Superior Court in the morning, as they must if they have made an arrest the previous night. The new shift will only add to that difficulty, they said.
A patrol sergeant in the 4th District said officers are "really upset" by the mandatory shift. "We could have gotten volunteers that were interested, but that wasn't offered" as an option, said the sergeant, who spoke on the condition he not be named.
A lieutenant in the Support Services Command, which includes detectives working on special investigations and youth crimes, said the power shift is best staffed by people who do it willingly. "We've had power shifts for years," said the lieutenant, who asked not to be identified. "Before, it used to be the go-getters, the new people and anybody else who was drafted. It's very inconvenient for a family man."
Commanders in the patrol districts currently hold broad discretion over staffing. The 7th District in Southeast Washington moved to a four-day workweek and staggered 10-hour shifts in 1996 in an effort to improve morale. The 5th District, in Northeast, has tried the power shift on a voluntary basis. Extra officers are on patrol weekend nights in Georgetown and Adams-Morgan and near the nightclubs along M Street NW and O Street SE.
Violent crime in the 7th District, which is mostly residential, is not more likely to occur in the early hours of the morning, said Cmdr. Winston Robinson Jr. "The officers enjoy the shifts they have now, there's no doubt about that," he said.
But Ramsey said he is trying to reform years of gradual movement toward inefficiency. He said he had considered changing the shifts for some time but held off because the department's summer mobile force, which started in April and will end Oct. 31, made up for the late-night shortage of officers on the street.
"I realize it's controversial, but I didn't create this problem. I'm just trying to fix it," he said.
"People were working shifts based on their personal needs, and that's not acceptable," the chief said. "If criminals in the city would sign a memorandum of understanding to me that they would commit crimes only on days, and not on weekends, then I could have my officers work only on days, and not on weekends. But I don't think that's likely to happen."
In April, Ramsey said, he proposed a system of fixed shifts that would have assigned more officers to the late evening, like the schedule used in Chicago, where Ramsey was a deputy superintendent until being recruited by the District last year. That proposal was decisively rejected in a vote by the labor committee of the Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents D.C. officers.
Ramsey said he has given officers a 14-day notice as required by the union and suggested that the officers begin rearranging their home life.
"It's nothing personal, and I feel bad that people's lives will get disrupted," he said. "But we're public servants."