When first proposed in early 2011, increasing sheriff’s patrols to cut down on overtime seemed like a good idea to members of the Hudson County Freeholder Board. But some questioned whether it would actually save the county money.
A report issued two weeks ago by the Hudson County Sheriff’s Department may allay those questions, pointing to the fact that after about seven months of operations, the new patrol schedule, called “The Pittman Schedule,” had actually reduced department overtime by almost $311,000.
Overtime costs fell from $326,107 in 2010 to $15,237 in 2011, Sheriff Frank Schillari said.
“The Pittman Schedule was an innovative change for the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office.”-- Frank Schillari
Last March, Sheriff Schillari proposed changing patrol shifts for county sheriff’s officers to increase them to around the clock – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What do they do?
Although their duties generally involve protecting county courts and delivering warrants and other legal notices, the elimination of the county police in 1995 made patrolling county parks and county streets also one of the sheriffs’ duties. But prior to this year, such patrols were limited to specific hours.
“The Pittman Schedule was an innovative change for the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office,” Schillari said. “During the trial period, it provided 24-hour a day, seven-day a week patrol with the main goals of providing around-the-clock public safety for all our residents. Not having an overnight shift was no longer acceptable.”
This innovation, Schillari said, was part of a pledge he made in the fall of 2010 to reorganize the Sheriff’s Office to operate more efficiently and effectively, while at the same time saving tax dollars.
This change required a retooling of the Patrol Division.
Schillari said by working closely with County Executive Tom DeGise, the Board of Freeholders, and local unions, the department was able to put the new schedule into effect.
Increased park, road patrols
The change increased patrol coverage of county roads and parks from the current two eight-hour shifts to around the clock patrols, but did not increase the number of sheriff’s officers as listed in the current table of organization, resulting in a minimal economic impact on the county.
Until this change, the Sheriff’s Department patrolled most – but not all – of the county parks from 7 a.m. to about 11 p.m., and provided municipal transportation from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. on regular time pay, and from 2 to 6 a.m. on overtime.
With the Pittman schedule, the department provided 24-hour patrols to all of the county parks, including – for the first time – Laurel Hill Park in Jersey City, Stephen R. Gregg Park in Bayonne, and Columbus Park in Hoboken; and increased municipal transport to 24 hours a day at regular pay.
To accomplish this, the sheriff’s officers were divided into four squads – with two for day and two for night – and working on a 14-day cycle with a 12-hour work shift.
Freeholder Anthony Romano was particularly concerned with the vandalism that went on in a number of county parks after dark. Stephen Gregg Park in Bayonne was a particular hot spot, partly because it had several levels where potential vandals could remain out of sight.
Often parks are vandalized after midnight. Theortically, the new patrols combined with new surveillance systems being installed in several of these parks has the potential to cut down these problems, said Freeholder Bill O’Dea – especially since the mobile sheriff’s units will have access to the camera feed. These cameras are already active in Lincoln Park in Jersey City and are slated to be installed next in Stephen Gregg Park in Bayonne.
“My one concern is that during the year, we learned that the Sheriff’s Department was not staffed to properly monitor the cameras in Lincoln and Stephen R Gregg parks,” O’Dea said. “Nor was it a priority of theirs. As such, we will now be hiring civilians (potentially ex-law enforcement officers and those pursuing a career in law enforcement) to do that task. I would deduct that cost from savings. Additionally, there are still a number of personnel who get an inordinate amount of overtime. I would like to see that curtailed. Overall, I think the department has continued to provide good quality services, especially in our county parks.”