D.C. police officers and their families yesterday protested a new citywide late-evening patrol shift, just one day after Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey announced he would delay the changes and allow more flexibility in scheduling.
Waving posters with slogans that said, "Crime Is Down. Now We Are Being Punished," and "We Are Public Servants. Not Public Slaves," more than 100 officers, some with their young children hoisted on their shoulders, rallied on the steps of police headquarters on Indiana Avenue NW.
Earlier this week, Ramsey announced a "power shift" to run from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. The initial plan was for about 2,000 current patrol officers to get a rotating schedule: days for 56 days, evenings for 56 days and then 28 days on the new late-evening shift.
Under Ramsey's latest plan, the power shift would not begin until Nov. 7. Local district commanders would have five shift options that they could structure to ensure there were enough police officers working during high-crime hours.
"I'm not backing off of this at all," Ramsey said yesterday. "I spoke to the officers, and I understand their concerns. But I can't operate a department based on the needs of every member."
Police officers at the rally said that crime is down and the shifts should remain the same. Many officers said the additional shift would leave them without child care at night. Others said the new shift would cause them to lose part-time jobs that supplement their income.
It would also make it harder for them to attend college classes, as Ramsey wants, said Detective Frank Tracy, chairman of the police labor union.
"I have babies," said Officer Laura White, who works in the 3rd District and is a single parent. "Who's going to take care of them?"
Ramsey said he is trying to address the problem of child care and will convene a committee to consider it. District commanders will be able to talk with officers and select one of several options, such as rotating all four shifts--midnights, days, evenings and the power shift--or some combination.
"Yes, crime is down," Ramsey said. "But our goal is to make this the safest city in the country. Anything less than that is not acceptable. We have communities where people can't walk outside."
Ramsey said an internal police study this year found that the number of officers on duty late at night was 10 percent below the number of service calls during those high-crime hours.
Rotating evening shifts is a common practice in police departments across the country, said Hubert Williams, president of the Police Foundation, a police research group.
"It's as basic as two plus two equals four. If you have a certain amount of work, you want to get it done," Williams said. "This is for every citizen who calls for police and can't get them during peak hours."
But officers said yesterday that shift changes would only adversely affect morale and increase stress at home. Some area residents who came out to support them agreed.
"They have to have a life, too," said Jacqueline Hawkins, 32, of Northwest. "The last thing we want is angry officers. We don't want them taking this out on the community. Maybe there's a better answer."
Staff writer Cheryl W. Thompson contributed to this report.