What Shifts Do Police Work – Research shows that long hours and off-duty work can negatively impact officers’ performance and even exacerbate their racial biases. But most departments don’t place limits on officers’ hours.
Fatigue is bad for any work environment. But for the police the effort is much greater. Officers must respond to nighttime calls, make split-second decisions and de-escalate tense situations – sometimes in the middle of a 16-hour shift.
What Shifts Do Police Work
A small but growing body of research links long work hours and officer fatigue to a variety of public safety problems. Fatigue can do more than just affect the way officers perform routine tasks, such as maneuvering a patrol car. Recent evidence suggests it may affect their ability to use good judgment. Yet many law enforcement agencies have lax policies about how long officers can work, and some don’t track the extra hours at all. Only a third of law enforcement agencies in the most recent federal Law Enforcement Leadership and Administrative Statistics Survey reported limiting the amount of overtime sworn personnel could work, and just under half placed limits on off-duty work. It’s a big problem, says Karen Amendola, chief behavioral researcher at the Norwegian Police Foundation. “When you put a lot of tired officers in a very sensitive situation, a lot can go wrong.”
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According to Lois James of Washington State University, who researches sleep deprivation and police work, the effects of fatigue are most prominent in routine situations that are otherwise not stressful for police. “From an officer safety perspective, there are serious consequences of fatigue,” James says. One of these consequences can be reduced performance when driving late at night. But Washington State researchers also found that insufficient sleep can increase pre-existing implicit biases. They monitored the sleep of 80 police officers and gave them a series of tests. Officers who slept less were significantly more likely to associate African Americans with guns.
A Phoenix Police Department study published in Police Quarterly compared officers who worked 10-hour shifts with officers who worked more than 13 hours. Longer shifts did not result in fewer arrests or interrogations in the field, nor did they hinder firearm test pass rates. But the number of complaints against those in the 13-hour group was significantly higher than for the 10-hour officers.
A recent audit of the King County, Washington Sheriff’s Office linked additional overtime to a host of staffing issues. Working just one hour of extra overtime per week increased the likelihood that an officer would be involved in a violent incident the following week by 2.7 percent and increased the likelihood of ethical violations by 3.1 percent.
These problems are certainly not unique to the police; A large body of research has shown that safety risks and health problems are exacerbated by long working hours for truck drivers, pilots and other professions.
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But current pressures mean some police officers are working longer and longer hours. Some agencies are facing staff shortages due to budget cuts or the retirement of baby boomers. For example, a police audit in San Jose, California found that average overtime had doubled since 2008 as the agency struggled to fill vacancies. In addition, many law enforcement agencies have received money set aside to work overtime to combat the opioid epidemic.
Scheduled services are also being expanded. Research from the Police Foundation shows that most departments still operate eight-hour shifts, but more and more departments are moving to longer shifts. A study by the group found that 10-hour shifts provided the highest quality of work life, and officers slept half an hour longer than those on eight-hour shifts. But police on 12-hour shifts were found to be drowsy and less alert while at work.
Some overtime is unavoidable. Officers must appear in court off-duty, make arrests late in their shift, conduct raids to cover absences or assist with crowd control. But the extra hours are usually not evenly distributed across the workforce. News reports often highlight individual officers who have racked up staggering amounts of overtime, sometimes more than doubling their salaries.
The restrictions on overtime that do exist are often mild, with some departments allowing 18 hours of work over a 24-hour period. Many do not monitor overtime at all. Amendola of the Police Foundation recommends that law enforcement agencies limit officers to no more than 14 hours per day and require rest periods between long shifts. “The policy is generally about what unions want or what agencies want, but it’s not based on science,” she says. Another recommendation from a National Institute of Justice-funded study encourages agencies to incorporate officer input into shift scheduling. Older officers in particular appear to be less tired if they can choose their own shifts.
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Recreational work can take an extra toll on officers, but most police departments don’t keep basic information about it either, said Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina and a former police officer who recently studied police practices. Most departments allow police to work for private employers in a law enforcement role, providing them with additional income at a rate that is often higher than what they receive as a government employee. However, half of the local departments Stoughton surveyed lacked any restrictions on the number of hours officers could work both on and off duty. And of those with policies, few officers work fewer than 16 hours a day. “It’s very easy for agencies to underestimate the risk of officers working long hours,” Stoughton says.
There are no state or federal mandates regarding police work hours, and police unions, for the most part, have not adopted model policies. Some of this likely stems from differing needs and capabilities across departments, as smaller departments with fewer officers may find it more difficult to fill off-duty hours without imposing significant overtime. Be that as it may, unions are generally against restrictions on working hours. (The Fraternal Order of Police did not respond to requests for comment on this matter.)
The dangers are especially apparent for officers who work shifts in cemeteries. A few years ago, in Henderson, Nevada, police officers crashed their patrol cars in three separate accidents in a relatively short period of time. That prompted Wade Seekatz, now a captain in the department, to investigate possible solutions. The result was four quiet rooms spread across the city, equipped with discarded fire department armchairs, where officers are allowed to sleep during their lunch breaks. (They are required to keep their cell phones on.)
“We expect officers to show up rested and prepared for their work,” Seekatz said. “But there are times when we have no control that they hit a wall.” The rooms give officers some privacy and could prevent the kind of unwanted publicity that Richmond, Ind., police face. earlier this year when photos of a pair of officers sleeping in their cruisers went viral on social media. “When you have a 24-hour operation, you have officers on duty,” Seekatz said. “They are human.” The majority of our team members have endured the brutal night shift at some point in their careers. “Night watch” is often called dog watch, graveyard, and midnight.
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From experience, we have found some important tools and tricks that have helped us stay healthy, both physically and mentally.
This article outlines these Night Shift Hacks in the hopes of helping other agents around the world realize that working in the dark is probably one of the hardest things to do, but someone has to do it.
The most important aspect of working non-standard hours is a healthy sleep regimen. Most people are not used to sleeping during the day and being awake all night. It takes time for your body to adjust to a different sleep schedule. Especially if you’ve had a fairly normal sleep schedule for 15-20 years before your first night shift.
But if this isn’t an option (as it isn’t for some of us with kids and families who are active in school and sports etc.) But there is still hope, even for you!
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A healthy sleep regimen for working night shifts starts with an adjustment day at each end of your shift. For example, if you work a night shift for 3-4 days, get up the day before the first shift so you can force yourself to sleep during the day.
To ensure consistent sleep throughout the day and the best possible quality, use double blackout curtains, white noise and/or earplugs.
Everyone else in my neighborhood has normal daytime activities. Mowing the lawn, sometimes minor work, garbage trucks, car and pedestrian traffic, etc. To prevent these things from disturbing my sleep, I use the tools above.
Sleep is not always a top priority for many people. However, when working at night, it is extremely important to get as much sleep as possible. It’s very easy to schedule 7-9 hours of sleep with a 9-5 or similar job. If you work the night shift, it is much more difficult.
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Some people have trouble falling asleep no matter what their activities were during the day. Part of a healthy sleep regimen is eliminating blue light (screens). Using screens to fall asleep can become a bad habit,
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