Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The hidden cost of airport parking

There's a booth at the long term parking lot at the airport staffed by a single employee, around the clock. I handed her 9 dollars last week, and thought to myself that there was a good math problem involved in this that relates to police work.

How many people does it take to staff that little booth around the clock, 24/7/365?

Let's assume, for the sake of this problem, that parking booth attendants need a certificate requiring 19 weeks of classroom training, followed by about 6 months of field training--about 9 months total before they can ever make change on their own. The work of parking booth attendants is among the most demanding in our society. The shift work is destructive to personal relationships and the healthy sleeping, eating, and exercising habits. Paper cuts are a constant menace. The impact of mistaking a ten dollar bill for a twenty is huge--and there are always the accountants to triple check every little line on the register tape. Ever tried picking a dropped dime up off the floor in a booth the size of a glove box? The cumulative stress of dealing with people who insist "Can I have a receipt for that?" can turn a bright, idealistic, enthusiastic 22 year old into a jaded burned-out cynic at 24.

Since this is skilled professional work, parking attendants are mostly college graduates. If not, they generally have some kind of equivalent life experience or skill--prior career experiences, bilingual, military service, or such. Their work is filled with both physical and psychological risks and challenges requiring physical ability, mental acuity, great self-control, and a host of other personal and interpersonal skills.

It takes a pretty special kind of people to do this work well. So parking attendants must pass a battery of competitive tests of their intellectual capacity, psychological fitness, physical fitness, medical condition, polygraph examinations, drug screens, credit checks, reference checks, and background investigations. You can't be a parking lot attendant if you've ever been convicted of a felony, a crime of domestic violence, or if you have more than a few minor violations of the laws of the land--even if nobody knew about them but you and God prior to the background investigation. And if the polygraph exam shows that you have lied about anything during the many interviews, or been a regular user of racist language or one who harbors hateful attitudes, you won't be punching any tickets.

Finally, let's assume that it is critical that parking attendants receive regular on-going training on a variety of very important topics to maintain their skills and to adapt to the changing dynamics of the lot around them.

Now, to the math: There are 52 weeks in a year, 7 days in the week, 24 hours in the day. That's 8736 hours in year we'll need to cover. If our attendants work a 40 hour week, they'll each put in 2080 hours, so we'll need 8736 divided by 2080. That's 4.2 full time employees. Wrong. You forgot the following:

Vacation: Average, 100 hours per year
Holidays: 88 hours per year
Sick leave: Average ,58 hours per year
Mandatory training: 40 hours per year
Injury leave: Average, 8 hours per year
Compensatory time off in lieu of overtime pay: Average, 40 hours per year
Military leave: Average, 6 hours per year

We're up to an average total per employee of 340 per year, which has to be subtracted from the 2080 hours that would constitute a year's worth of 40 hour work weeks. So, each employee will actually be in the booth for 1740 hours, and we've got to cover 8736 of those hours in a year. 8736 / 1740. There, we'll need 5.02 employees. Wrong again, there's more.

We have to overlap the shifts of the parking attendants a little bit. The off-going employee has got to check out her drawer and balance, the on-coming employee has got to check in, log himself onto the cash register, and scan the newly-posted corporate memos. The Fair Labor Standards Act requires that employees be compensated for such tasks, so we'll need to have a 15 minute overlap for each of the two employee switching out at three daily shift changes. That means we'll lose another 1.5 hours of time on each of 365 days, or 547.5 more hours--just a little less than a third of an employee.

The net result: We need 5.3 more full time police officers to put one additional patrol car on the street in this City of a quarter million, where we have an average of 40 uniformed officers and sergeants on the street at any given time. Between the City budget cycle, recruitment, selection, and training, it will be nearly two years from the day the addition is approved until the day we actually realize the increase.

A police officer costs roughly $70,000 a year in salary, benefits, and the pro-rated annual cost of such things as equipment, vehicles, mileage. Adding 5.3 officers necessary to staff one additional officer on the street at any given time, then, would add $371,000 annually to the City budget. Adding enough officers to put Lincoln at 1.5 officers per 1,000 citizens (our long standing goal, but still way below the average in our region, and in the nation) would require 44 additional officers at a cost of about $3,080,000 per year, and would result in about 8 more officers on duty at any given time.


True Blue said...

It's good to see the cost. Now, I am curious what the cost to the city would be if on one of these nights we are below 'minimum', as we usually are, and God forbid, an Officer gets killed. I'm guessing the law suit against the city that will be made by the Officer's family, for the Officer being killed while the Dept is fuctioning under the set Minimum- The minimum number of Ofc's needed to work safely, efficiently on any given night,
Will be much higher than the cost to staff our Dept with the Ofc's we need. I also think that the city would think differently if they knew that at certain times, entire sections of the city are being protected by only 2 Ofc's..... Big city, small Police Dept....

Anonymous said...

Gee Chief, I read this post and had to read it twice. What is the point you are making here. I know that many topics are available for your choosing. This one gets a low D on grade scale. All the others to this point were great and got all A+
No smile face today.

Tom Casady said...

Sorry to disappoint you, anonymous 5:02. We're in the middle of budget discussions with the new administration this week, and the topic of adding/cutting police officers is a hot one--particularly internally. The City is facing a deficit right now that will require cutting $9 million, and the cost of adding police officers is quite large.

While most mayors, city council members, and other city department directors know that I have pushed hard and consistently for increasing the size of the police department over the past 13 years, many people within the department don't know that--and almost everyone lacks any clear sense of the money involved in reaching a reasonable goal. As you can see from the first comment to this blog, it's a topic of great concern and interest to many of our officers.

Anonymous said...

Get after them Tom. The new Mayor ran teh add campaigns to be tough on crime and Meth. The addage of doing more with less in law enforcement has gone the way of police phones on the corner. I think the city has hit its limit of the number of call ins the department receives to the number of officers who respond. I listen to the scanner and it seems officers are going from call to call to call.

I know you want more officers, and I'm preaching to the choir. Keep fighting for more bodies and use the current technologies you have instead of buying more.

Ictalurus penctatus cop said...

Chief, you forgot to add in the cost finding, backgrounding, training, and equipping new toll collectors to replace those whom become burnt out and find greener pastures. The city looses all of that investment and starts over from square one. Working at or below minimum every night is what turns that officers smile upside down. I'm for taking the funny looking bicycles off corners and replacing them with more cops. It would make everybodys day a little brighter in the end.

Tom Casady said...

By the way, ictalurus punctatus, I'll forget the spelling, but for the record, I grew up in Keokuk, IA on this delicacy!