I’m writing to respond to the Landmark View titled “The stare-down begins” (Feb. 24) in which you express an opinion that police officers (whose starting pay is $48,000) afford a pretty decent living.
Only days before, I read an opposing opinion by another columnist on the MSN Web page that lists police officers among the top most underpaid jobs. Whatever your opinion, consider this: The take home pay (after taxes) for a Brookfield police officer’s starting salary would hover below $40,000. It’s certainly not enough for most young families to live on, making it necessary for officer’s spouses to work full time as well.
Now consider the fact that the current, rotating 8-hour schedule means that every week, the officers’ days off rotate, and every two months the officers’ work schedules change from day shift to afternoon shift.
This constant juggling in schedule not only makes it difficult for officers to spend time with their families (weekends off are rare), but also makes it very challenging and expensive to coordinate child care.
To ease this added stress and improve their quality of life, the police department wants a return to the 12-hour shift schedule they enjoyed for four years. On this schedule, even though officers still work the same number of hours per year as they do on the 8-hour schedule, every police officer will get every other weekend off, accompanied by a more frequent and regular day-off schedule. Family time is important to all of us, and the police are no exception.
The 12-hour shift schedule offers other benefits as well, but none as important as this one. Because of this, the police union has made it clear during this year’s contract discussions, that they are willing to negotiate this “quality of life” benefit in place of a financial one. Certainly, even in these tough economic times, this is a bargaining chip that the village does have to offer.
What sweetens the pot for the village even more is that there is a clear and undeniable financial benefit to the village as well. I can say this because, as the wife of a Brookfield police officer who assisted with the tally of the daily time sheets, I had first-hand access to the numbers that revealed the annual overtime hours spent on this 8-hour schedule as compared to the previous 12-hour schedules.
The numbers were alarming. Over 700 hours in overtime cost was paid over and above the highest amount ever paid on the 12-hour shift schedule. This was needed in order to keep the minimum number of officers on the street.
Surely the extra expense would be put to better use in keeping the two officers whose jobs are now being threatened. As a side note, I also take issue with your comment that the police department set up a scenario to lose two of their colleagues. Would you accuse the third-grader who doesn’t want to give up their lunch money of setting up a scenario for getting a black eye? Unlikely.
The police union has put a non-economic offer on the table that includes a return to the 12-hour schedule. The final tally, when comparing the 8-hour schedule to the 12-hour shift, reveals an undeniable fact: When staffing is equal, 12-hour shifts require less cost in overtime, allow for more officers scheduled to work per shift and, by giving the officers what they want, increases morale.
What’s so hard about making this deal?
Gail Cabala-Lowry is the wife of a Brookfield police officer and a former Brookfield village trustee.