The Department is in a Quandary – It is Hurting Us!
Message from the Desk of the Chief Steward Jonathan Byrd
Quote of the day: Some will applaud, some will object, and some will not care at all.
The Department is in a quandary, and it is hurting us.
Staffing levels in the Juvenile Institutions (Halls) are at an all-time low, causing serious concerns as to the sustainability of having two (2) Halls. This has resulted in instability of operations to the point that those who are still trying to provide professional care are getting burned-out and/or injured. Others who have already been injured are out and some are out because they have given up. The number of employees out is currently above 200…
The Department’s requirement to have officers deployed from other units has worked sporadically but is now beginning to fail because of burn-out, and staff frankly being out of their professional niche. The "Peace Officer" status is really being challenged.
Most of us can identify the issues, vocalize the problems, and even point the finger. This is the result of knowing what we do and how things should be done. The problem is it does not offer resolution, and a resolution is desperately needed.
Let’s take a look at a few key issues we are facing as Probation Department personnel:
Poor management skills and lack of management personnel;
Unclear presentation of policies and procedures for dealing with the youth;
Staff out on injury;
Deployment of peace officers; and
Lack of pepper spray to maintain order to protect the juveniles, staff, and CBOs, and ourselves.
A shift in management culture is needed. With that in mind, let’s look at possible recommendations to the issues listed above:
Have experienced local leadership (supervisors, directors, etc.) onsite and available to rank and file personnel to make supervisory decisions based on practical actions (solutions) not legalistic reading of the policies. Increase supervisory staff through promotions and transfers into the institutions with experienced employees. Indoctrinate the higher-level management personnel with the operation skillset and vision to carry out the Chief’s goals.
Policies need to be clearly defined, understood, and applied. Report out anyone that refuses to comply with the practical applications of the policy (i.e., can you remove a youth who is constantly causing a disturbance, who is assaultive, or who just will not comply? The answer should be clear.). Those who are not capable should be reassigned. Have daily unit meetings.
Have our third-party administrator (Sedgwick) do a better job of having injured employees get the medical attention needed in a timely manner so that they can return to work.
Staff must stop calling out for non-emergencies during this rebuilding phase. Have local leadership use more of a team concept to encourage those under their supervision. Often times, colleagues that work together depend on each other to make it through a shift and will come to work to assist the team. It is called shift building through familiarity.
Build a voluntary deployment list before mandatory deployment. Give clear instructions as to the responsibilities. Supervisors must emphasize their duties as deployed staff report to the deployment site. Have face-to-face interactions between supervisors and rank and file if there are any attendance issues. Be clear with staff about any actions (disciplinary) that will be forthcoming if required. Communication is key in these efforts.
Many of the currently assigned staff and deployed staff have been trained on the use of pepper spray. Upon request, provide those individuals with pepper spray. The high number of assaults – youth-on-youth and youth-on-staff – may be curtailed by the use of pepper spray. Simply put, there are many inexperienced staff who do not have the capability at this point in their career to deescalate or physically intervene.
Local 685 has requested the establishment of a Labor-Management Deployment Committee to initiate dialogue and brainstorm ideas.
With over 30 years of service in the Probation Department I thought I has seen the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Now I am seeing the unbelievable!
Perhaps we should consider that the jobs we have are not given to us through natural factors or by the generosity of our Board of Supervisors, but by the results of our professionalism, service, negotiations, advocacy, laws, and politics.
We the rank and file have worked diligently over the years as Peace Officers to have safe, well-paid jobs. We should not allow others to minimize or take this prestigious identification from us by being non-conformists, refusing to act on the call of duty, and looking for reason to not comply. We will have time for that, but now is not the time. Outside entities are after our jobs at every level: Probation, Pretrial, and DCFS, juvenile and adult.
I would like to finish by encouraging us to pull together as a family of working-class people, who project professionalism, who protect our jobs, who insist on our rights, and who work together for the betterment of all.
2nd Vice President and Chief Steward
AFSCME Local 685