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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 2, 2006

Morale issue curbs police effectiveness

A plan to shift Honolulu police officers to a more conventional work schedule is a good idea on several fronts. It may avert future legal problems over how officers are paid. And if accompanied by pay increases, it may even help enhance the professional stature of the force.

But without any efforts to reverse a mounting morale problem, the program could widen an existing gulf between the Honolulu Police Department management and the rank and file.

That is not a hopeful sign for the community the police must serve.

Police are chafing about the plan to eliminate the three-day workweek option they now have, an arrangement known as the "3-12" schedule. Many of them feel that the strain of 12-hour shifts is offset by an important benefit the ability to take second jobs.

Such "moonlighting," they say, helps to compensate for the below-standard HPD pay scales. The loss of that income is certainly a justifiable grievance.

There are also obvious, underlying tensions that should be addressed if the new scheduling change is to succeed. Some of this strain became public recently in reports on a poll conducted by the police union, the State of Hawai'i Organization of Police Officers. Among its conclusions: Police Chief Boisse Correa "never or almost never works well with line officers toward common goals."

The union and the chief need to repair that division. While it's understandable that some officers might view the the workforce change as retribution, it's not that simple. Correa helped to engineer the 3-12 schedule to begin with and wouldn't drop it casually.

More importantly, HPD does have to worry about any irregularities in work scheduling.

There is ongoing class-action litigation against the department, alleging violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. From that standpoint, HPD may not have much choice.

The city clearly needs to sit down with union leaders and management to discuss pay adjustments that could partially offset the need for side jobs. Witnessing the exodus of trained officers to the Mainland during the late 1990s, it's evident that our police force is underpaid.

Given the city's financial crunch HPD was budgeted at about $27 million less than it requested this fiscal year heading off a crisis will be a challenge. The SHOPO contract is set to expire at the end of this year, and Correa's administration will start collective bargaining negotiations with the union.

But leadership on either side should not wait until the last minute to begin peace talks.