A good thing for the folks in blue

Published 9:36 pm Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It has been said both here and in other contexts that being a police officer is a tough, dangerous and often thankless job. There are the obvious problems of dangerous criminals, volatile situations and isolation. Less obvious, however, are the challenges they face in court, the disappointment they feel when bad people wind up back on the streets and the frustration that comes from knowing they could earn more money doing so many other less dangerous, less demanding things.

One frustration that Suffolk police officers have had for a long time, though, will soon go away when the city’s police department institutes permanent shifts and a new rotation.

After taking over the department last year, Chief Thomas Bennett performed a comprehensive analysis of the department’s operations, which included a survey of the patrol staff. Nearly 70 percent of the officers responding to that survey said they would prefer being on a fixed schedule from day to day.

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The regular shifts would give them better-defined sleep schedules and make it easier for them to plan activities with family and friends. In addition to the permanent shift schedule, a new 5-2/5-3 rotation would give everyone opportunities to have weekends off occasionally.

From a public safety standpoint, giving officers permanent shifts will help them be more familiar with their territories and make it more likely that they would spot things that are out of the ordinary for a particular time of day. Theoretically, it could also give them a chance to get to know the folks on their beat more personally, which is another way to help the city bring residents onto the crime-fighting team.

Nearly as important, though, is the fact that the changes will help build morale on the police force. Considering the stresses that are a part of every police officer’s day, it can only be a good thing to get these men and women in blue back home with their families on a regular and predictable basis.

The changes seem obvious in retrospect. In fact, a previous police administration had considered them but was hesitant to proceed. Kudos to Chief Bennett for asking his officers what they wanted, recognizing a good idea when he heard it and being willing to take the steps to implement it. Anything that will boost the morale of this often-underappreciated city agency should be worth such serious consideration.