LARGO - He is concerned his deputies may become more tired, or less proactive in their police work, but Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has reluctantly agreed to allow some of them work 12-hour shifts as part of a pilot program.
That pilot program has proved to be so popular that there are more deputies vying for the 12-hour shifts than there are slots available.
The sheriff is allowing the 12-hour shifts only at the north district station in Dunedin, from which deputies patrol the northern part of the county. At the central station, on Ulmerton Road in Largo, deputies will continue to work eight-hour shifts, Gualtieri said.
When deputies put in bids for the 12-hour shifts, which will begin on July 14, 61 deputies applied for the 55 12-hour shifts available, Gualtieri said.
"There are actually six deputies who wanted to be north and didn't get it," Gualtieri said. Those six will continue to work from the Ulmerton Road station.
The sheriff has long had 12-hour shifts at the Pinellas County Jail, which he oversees, and he has incurred considerable savings switching over there. Positions were cut because, in a 24-hour period, only two 12-hour shifts are called for, while three are needed if eight-hour shifts are in play.
The sheriff has saved $6 million at the jail, and 70 positions were eliminated as a result of the changeover.
But the life of a detention deputy at the jail is not the same as a patrol deputy on the road.
Simply put, a detention deputy puts in his hours, goes home, and returns to work, with no duties outside the jail.
A patrol deputy, on the other hand, often has to testify in court when he's not working his designated shift, Gualtieri said. Or his shift lasts longer than scheduled if he gets a call toward the end of it. Many patrol deputies also work off-duty security jobs.
The reason Gualtieri relented is that deputies kept asking for the longer shifts. There are no savings associated with the move.
"Forever, I have received requests from deputies throughout patrol to go to 12 hours shifts," the sheriff said.
Gualtieri even went out on a 12-hour shift to see what it would feel like.
"You're tired at the end of 12 hours," he said.
Given his lingering concerns about deputies working 12-hour shifts, don't expect them to become the norm throughout the county.
"Even if it works in north and I keep it ... I'm not going to put both districts on twelves," he said.
"We're going to evaluate it during this six-month shift bid. We may scrap it. We may keep it. My big thing with it is, I want to make sure it doesn't adversely affect officer safety and productivity."
"I don't want to see pro-active policing going down because people are too tired," he said.
From the deputies' point of view, a 12-hour shift is attractive because they work fewer days in a month and have more weekends free. In Pasco County, for instance, where 12-hour shifts are the norm at the jail and on patrol duty, deputies get two three-day weekends a month, said Pasco County Sheriff's Office spokesman Doug Tobin.
Twelve-hour shifts are also popular at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, where they have been in place for some time, said spokesman Larry McKinnon.
In Hillsborough County, a deputy first works a short week - he only works Wednesday and Thursday out of seven days - but then works 12-hour shifts on five days the following week, McKinnon said.
"It definitely is something that is very well-liked by the personnel using it," he said.
Twelve-hour shifts make a law enforcement agency attractive to prospective recruits who are deciding where they want to work, Gualtieri said. Under the eight-hour-shift bidding process, it could be 10 to 15 years before a deputy would have even part of a weekend free, the sheriff said.
"Since we are not paying well ... that was also a consideration," Gualtieri said.
Though Gualtieri has made significant strides in filling his 761 law enforcement positions - hiring 125 to 130 plus deputies in the last year - he is still hiring, with about 12 openings, he said.