County postpones vote on standoff with Sheriff and deputies over shifts

By Lisa ZahnerINDIAN RIVER COUNTY — With both sides having dug in their heels over the issue of work shifts, the Board of County Commissioners voted Tuesday morning to mediate the impasse between Sheriff Deryl Loar and his deputies at a special call meeting tentatively set for Sept. 10.Despite an in-house survey of deputies resulting in an 80 percent vote against changing from 12-hour shifts to 10-hour shifts, Loar went ahead with plans to make the change. But since the deputies are union employees and under a collective bargaining agreement, Loar needs the approval of the County Commissioners to seal the deal. His main reason behind the change is to allocate deputies at the times when the most calls for service come in.”My whole mission is to be more efficient, I was elected by the voters to run an efficient, effective operation,” Loar said. “If you ran a restaurant, you would want your staff to be there when you serve the most customers.” Deputies have been working 12-hour shifts for more than 12 years since former Sheriff Gary Wheeler, now a County Commissioner, insistuted the current shift plan as a cost-saving measure. Director of Management and Budget Jason Brown said neither side has submitted an analysis to the budget office as to the costs or any potential savings of the new shift schedule.Another reason for the change being given by the Sheriff’s Office include fatigue of officers on a 12-hour shift plus a 15-minute pre-shift briefing and commute time, since deputies drive Sheriff’s Office vehicles home. The proposed schedule wold also provide for time each week for training and court appearances without incurring overtime. Loar said the judges have indicated they are on board with moving traffic infractions from Thursday to Wednesday. Half the deputies working Sunday through Wednesday and the other half working Wedensday through Saturday, providing overlap on Wednesdays for training and court. Under the proposal, deputies would rotate their four-day schedule after 90 days.Representatives of the Coastal Police Benevolent Association, which represents the deputies, are vehemently opposed to the change.Deputy Scott Carmine, a Sebastian resident and local representative for the union, said members voted unanimously to reject Loar’s proposal, even though there was a clause that deputies could receive bonuses for adopting the new shifts.”They didn’t care about the money,” Carmine said. “They were willing to sacrifice anything to keep their 12-hour shifts.”Carmine said the fatigue argument raised by the Sheriff is unfounded and claims there have been no fatigue-related accidents due to deputies working 12-hour shifts. He said the Vero, Sebastian and Fellsmere police departments followed the Sheriff’s Office model in swithcing to the 12-hour shifts. The major contention of the deputies is that changing from three 12-hour shifts to four 10-hour shifts would create a hardship for deputies who have arranged their lives, child care and spouses’ employment schedules around the current shift plan. Deputies currently have every other weekend off, but under the new schedule, they would either work Saturday or Sunday every week. A good portion of the deputies have young families and need to work second jobs or help care for children on days off so spouses can work.”The primary issue to us and to our members , his employees, is the total disruption of their family lives,” said Al Boettjer, staff representative for the PBA, a 40-year veteran of law enforcement. “It would also affect their ability to take on off-duty details or a second job, if they have the approval of the department to do that. They haven’t had raises in a long time.”Loar said he would give deputies 8 to ten weeks before the new shifts took effect to make any necessary arrangements regarding family responsibilities. He said he’s hopeful about working something out with his employees.”There may be some type of agreement,” Loar said. “The men and women of the Sheriff’s Office work too hard to be distracted by these issues.”

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