With the blessing of City of Houston officials, officers with the Houston Police Department now work four 10-hour shifts per week.

The change went into effect Monday. HPD Chief Jim McNiell said one of the main reasons behind the switch from the standard work week of five eight-hour shifts was improvement of officers’ off-duty lives.

“As small as our department is, with six officers, the most important thing is that we have coverage 24 hours a day, 365 days out of the year,” McNiell said. “To do that with just six people, it’s sometimes hard to get officers off on weekends to be with their family with any regularity. We looked into what we could do, and seeing if it made sense to go to longer days and an extra day off.”

McNiell said he met with his officers and with City Administrator Larry Sutton, and the decision was made to approach the city council about the idea.

“The new rotation will assure everyone of getting at least one weekend off a month, and sometimes a little more than that,” McNiell said. “We also have a few guys who do other jobs on the side, and this will give them more time for that.”

McNiell said the new schedule actually creates better weeknight coverage.

“We usually have an evening car from about 4 p.m. to midnight, and then bring on another car at midnight,” he said. “Now we’ll bring a car on at 2 p.m., still have a 4 p.m. car, and then another car will come on at 8 p.m. and cover till 6 a.m.

“So on weeknights we’ll have three officers on at times. This will really enhance our evening coverage, and that’s when a lot of things happen in our city.”

McNiell said weekend coverage will continue to be a focus of the department.

“My main concern is that we have good coverage on weekend nights,” he said. “Under the new program, we’ll be able to have two or three officers on during the busier times when the nightspots are active and then when they start closing and we normally see an increase in potential problems.”

In situations when an officer is on vacation or extended sick leave, the department will revert back to five eight-hour days for the entire two-week pay period when the officer is away.

McNiell said the new schedule is a good way to show appreciation for his officers.

“There are only a few things you can do for an employee of a police department,” he said. “Pay is one of them, but I’m not really in control of that and we’re already paid very well compared to other departments –– our lack of turnover shows that. Another thing is to give them time off with their families, and these 10-hour workdays will do that for them without diminishing what we provide to the city at all.

“We’re excited about it and I think it’s going to work well. We’ll just have to get into it and see. We’re going to give it the good old college try and see what happens.”

McNiell also said installation of video camera systems in three of the department’s patrol vehicles is complete.

As small as our department is, with six officers, the most important thing is that we have coverage 24 hours a day, 365 days out of the year.”

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