All sworn members of the Long Beach Police Department are being required to work mandatory overtime shifts as the department continues to navigate a staffing shortage that has existed for years.
A memo from LBPD Chief Wally Hebeish to city management posted Friday said that all sworn members of the department would be required to work at least one overtime patrol shift per month. The move, which is already being implemented, was done to alleviate the strain on patrol officers who had been “repeatedly forced to work extended shifts,” Hebeish wrote.
The department’s 2023 budget included 664 police officer positions, which make up the majority of the over 1,200 positions in the department. However, the department has not been able to fill all its budgeted positions.
Hebeish told the council in July that out of the then-803 positions the department had in its budget, about 740 were filled due to a multitude of issues including injuries, military deployments and other leaves of absence.
The 2023 budget included the addition of 20 new positions for bicycle police and quality-of-life officers, positions that have also gone unfilled, according to Long Beach Police Officers Association President Rich Chambers.
The department could not immediately provide figures on how many unfilled sworn positions it has as of February.
Chambers said that while officers were not happy about the mandatory additional shift, they felt obligated to step up to fill the gaps and ensure the community receives its service. Officers typically work four 10-hour days, and the new policy will require all sworn officers to work an additional 10-hour shift every month.
“We’ve never seen the department do something like this,” Chambers said. “It’s definitely an unusual step.”
Chambers said the shifts have already started, and sign-ups for future shifts have extended into the summer. While the union and the department will continue to monitor the need as more officers are hired or graduate from the academy, he anticipates the additional shifts could run through the end of year.
The changes will require some relearning and retraining for certain positions like detectives, who haven’t worked a patrol job for years in some cases. Some had to be issued body-worn cameras, while others had to be trained on the in-car computers that patrol officers use.
“It’s like riding a bike, but a bike where they’ve changed the pedal location and the brake level,” Chambers said, noting that some officers might be rusty at working a patrol shift.
The department has added a variety of incentives to try to retain existing officers and entice others to join the ranks. The new LBPD contract approved by the City Council in November included a $5,000 incentive for most POA members starting in 2024, escalating longevity pay for officers who stay with the department for over 10 years and new recruitment bonuses.
Officers can earn a $3,000 bonus for new recruits who join the department’s academy and a $4,000 bonus for recruiting officers from other departments to transfer into the LBPD.
Chambers said it’s too early to tell if those incentives have been successful, but he noted that the retention benefits have kept some officers on the job who were looking at retiring in December.
The contract also included three annual raises during the course of the contract.
The department is also looking to launch a new civilian response program that would send new “community service assistants” to respond to lower-level calls and fill out police reports for things like break-ins and other non-violent crimes. They would not be armed or drive department vehicles.
A total of 16 positions were created in 2020 for the program that has yet to be implemented by the department. Chambers said he was unsure if those positions coming online would alleviate the strain that patrol officers are currently facing.
“This is not going to get better until we’re able to hire more people than we lose each year and do that on a consistent basis,” Chambers said.