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Modesto councilman suggests changing police shifts

Modesto City Councilman Garrad Marsh wants the Police Department to look into what sounds like a simple way to cut down on overtime costs for late-night patrols downtown on weekends: Stop assigning overtime shifts.

Doing so isn't as easy as one might think.

He suggests that the city change the times some police officers start their shifts on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays so more are available during their regular hours to patrol downtown when the club scene is in full swing.

But his plan may run into a couple of roadblocks: The Modesto Police Officers Association would have to agree to any changes in when shifts start, and interim Police Chief Mike Harden said adjusting the schedule could leave the department with an insufficient number of officers on the street during other times.

Changing start times for shifts would require the union to agree to open its contract and negotiate that point.

Marsh believes that assigning a later shift on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays could save as much as $200,000 of the roughly $300,000 Modesto expects to spend on downtown overtime this year.

Modesto has made significant strides in reducing downtown overtime — the expense has dropped nearly $200,000 in two years — but the city can't afford to keep accumulating red ink in the face of a $15 million drop in revenue.

It's looking at several options to offset the law enforcement overtime, such as steering a portion of parking garage revenue to the Police Department.

Harden acknowledged that Marsh asked him to investigate whether the department can adjust its shift start times in such a way that overtime would become unnecessary during the busy hours when bars and clubs close their doors early Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

He considers that a long-term option because it would require analyzing whether adjusting shifts would hurt the department in unexpected ways. The department times the shifts to rise with a day's typical call volume so it has the most officers on hand during its busiest hours.

"You just move those resources but you've still got the call volume," he said.

Harden said it's too early to say whether the department would ask the union to open the contract to discuss shift times because the city doesn't know whether Marsh's idea would work.

The police contract says, "It is the policy of the city of Modesto to discourage overtime except when necessitated by abnormal or unanticipated workload situations."

MPOA President Tony Arguelles did not return a call for comment about Marsh's suggestion. Two MPOA leaders attended a meeting Monday at which council members discussed downtown overtime.

City administrators are in the midst of tough negotiations with the MPOA. The city is seeking $820,000 in concessions from the union, which could take the form of unpaid furloughs or deferred raises.

Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.

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