By Yoona Ha, PoliceOne BrandFocus Staff
Most companies now acknowledge that flexibility is key to recruitment and retention of employees. But law enforcement agencies have plenty of catching up to do.
In the private sector, swapping and changing your schedule are just a few clicks away. So why is it that when some cops need a schedule change, they need to get the chief to update their shift in a spreadsheet, or even worse, on a whiteboard with a marker?
A few years ago, the Barberton Police Department in Ohio was wrestling with that very question and trying to decide how best to modernize its scheduling practices.
FIXING THE BUGS OF AN OFFLINE SCHEDULING SYSTEM
“We were using an analog system in the digital world,” said Vince Morber, chief of Barberton PD since 2010. “I had to pull up Excel spreadsheets for every guy on my shift, look at it and spend hours figuring out how to adjust the schedule as they needed.”
On top of how time-consuming this task was, the chief felt that his agency’s technological infrastructure needed to start mirroring what the officers were used to off-duty. He knew that antiquated scheduling systems could get in the way of recruiting or retaining millennial officers used to the ease of a smartphone.
WHY EVERY AGENCY NEEDS A DIGITAL CHAMPION
It’s a well-known joke that cops hate change, and Morber, too, said the change was a hurdle. Tired of the digital lag, however, Morber and the Barberton PD took a cue from the private sector. He looked to find a digital champion at his agency – one person who would take the lead in training, onboarding and educating other officers on how tech platforms could better meet the department’s needs.
They found that digital champion in Sgt. Jeff Donley. His interest in technology and reputation among his fellow officers made him a perfect fit for the role. Donley led the agency’s vendor search, selection, and onboarding process.
The department chose to partner with PlanIt Police, an online scheduling platform made with law enforcement needs in mind. A few examples of features include:
- The ability for officers to make changes to their schedule anyplace at any time with an Internet connection
- Warning systems that help leaders ensure that no shifts scheduled to trigger availability violations, mandatory rest, overtime or really any alert or warning alert that a department needs to prevent overbooking, underbooking or overlapping officers’ schedules
- Seamless overtime tracker and approval system
“A lot of the bigger scheduling and communications systems weren’t set up to get the needs of police agencies, such as union contracts and overtime issues,” said Morber, “but PlanIt had systems in place to track overtime hours, court appearances and really everything we needed.”
PEER TRAINING DOES THE TRICK
Barberton is known as “Magic City” because of the rapid population growth the city experienced when waves of immigration from eastern and southern Europe were at an all-time high. But the PD needed more than a magic wand to modernize its scheduling upgrade.
Naming a point person to lead any tech-powered initiative can help an organization get unstuck from the challenge of introducing a new platform, and for Barberton PD, tapping Donley to lead the charge did the trick. It can also give officers more ownership of a process that can only benefit from increased collaboration among colleagues.
“While you’re training officers, you get the opportunity to gain a better understanding of their challenges and how the software can be improved,” said Donley.
Not only did Donley ensure that the search process was on track, but also that all of his colleagues became properly trained on how to use the platform.
“The good news was that PlanIt is really easy to use, so it wasn’t really difficult for other officers to start using it without any problems,” said Donley.
This approach also alleviated the concerns of Chief Morber, who didn’t have to worry about having to manage a tech integration project on top of his core responsibilities.
Barberton officers never miss a beat now when it comes to knowing their work schedules in real-time. Time off, overtime, shift history, hours worked – all of this information is easily accessible using the system’s reporting capabilities, which come in especially handy when an audit is about to happen.
“We joke about not having to look for the book in the office anymore that used to have everyone’s vacation days recorded in it,” said Morber. “I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.”