Police mobilize against shift plan

County officers say change in rotation would harm morale

`Taking this very seriously'

April 18, 2001|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police is mobilizing its members to derail a proposal to extend the practice of rotating all three shifts to two more precincts.

Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan's proposal would change the policy of assigning one group of officers to the overnight shift -- usually 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. -- at the Towson and North Point precincts. Instead, all officers and supervisors in those precincts would rotate among the three shifts.

Two years ago, the Essex and Wilkens precincts went to a similar schedule in which shifts change every five days instead of every 15.

Sheridan wants the change so supervisors can better manage officers. With a permanent midnight shift, some officers do not see their supervisor for several days at time, officials say.

"It is better police service for the people of Baltimore County," said Bill Toohey, a police spokesman. "The officers will work together as a team ... so their performance can be monitored more closely."

County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger is requesting money in next year's budget to hire 11 additional supervisors to ensure proper oversight of the scheduling change.

But in a rare challenge to Sheridan's budget priorities, the FOP and some county council members hope to defeat the proposal because they fear it will threaten officers' health and morale and cripple efforts to retain qualified officers.

"We are taking this very seriously, and over the next couple of weeks we will be expressing our concerns and certainly [officers] will assist in voicing our concerns," said Cole Weston, president of FOP lodge 4.

Weston said his group will push to have the council cut the money for the 11 supervisors if an alternate proposal is not developed.

But at least one councilman says he sees no room for compromise.

"I do not favor that shift change at all. It is going to be a morale buster," said Councilman Wayne M. Skinner, a Towson Republican. "It is going to make the Towson precinct a ghost town because people are going to transfer. ... I have yet to hear a good reason for it."

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, also vows to fight the proposal. Gardina, a former county officer, said he left the force in 1986 partly because he had to work a shift configuration that is similar to one Sheridan is proposing for the two precincts.

"It is physically deteriorating to work those kind of hours," he said.

Councilman John Olszewski, a Dundalk Democrat who represents the area patrolled by the North Point precinct, is also skeptical about the proposal.

Weston said the FOP lobbying effort is in its early stages, but he has circulated a petition among officers and is preparing informational packets on the issue.

Skinner hopes the arguments persuade other council members to defeat the budget request.

"I respect Chief Sheridan's desire to run the Police Department as he sees fit," Skinner said. "But you got to draw a line somewhere."

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