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Tired Cops: The Prevalence and Potential Consequences of Police Fatigue

NCJ Number
National Institute of Justice Journal Issue: 248 Dated: March 2002 Pages: 16-21
Date Published
March 2002
6 pages
Publication Series
This article reports on a study that examined the prevalence and effects of police officer fatigue, exhaustion, and extreme drowsiness.
Beginning in 1996, the authors conducted studies in four mid-sized municipal law enforcement agencies located in different parts of the Nation. The agencies were representative in terms of staffing levels, work-shift arrangements, calls-for-service, and other potentially relevant variables. The study goals were to identify effective strategies for measuring fatigue among police officers and to better understand its prevalence among officers in the field. The study also focused on the causes of fatigue in the police environment as well as its impact on officer performance, health, and safety. To obtain an objective measure of the level of fatigue at the start of each day's shift, the researchers used a computerized device called the FIT Workplace Safety Screener, which permitted testing the officers' involuntary pupil responses and the speed of voluntary eye movements. The study also surveyed the officers with the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, a well-validated questionnaire that clinicians use to diagnose sleep disorders. The study found a high percentage of officers to be weary from overtime assignments, shift work, night school, hours spent waiting to testify, and the emotional and physical demands of the job. At a minimum, the research suggests four steps every police agency can take to assess the extent to which fatigue puts its officers and the community at risk. First, review the policies, procedures, and practices that affect shift scheduling and rotation, overtime, "moonlighting," the number of consecutive work hours allowed, and the way in which the department deals with overly tired employees. Second, assess how much of a voice officers are given in work-hour and shift-scheduling decisions. Third, assess the level of fatigue officers experience, the quality of their sleep, and how tired they are while on the job, as well as their attitudes toward fatigue and work-hour issues. Finally, review recruit and in-service training programs to determine if officers are receiving adequate information about the importance of good sleep habits, the hazards associated with fatigue and shift work, and strategies for managing them. 11-item resource list and 10 notes

Date Published: March 1, 2002