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Understanding the Effects of Fatigue on Law Enforcement

Steven James; Lois James
Steven James (Assistant Research Professor, Washington State University, College of Medicine) and Lois James (Assistant Professor, Washington State University, College of Nursing) discuss research on how fatigue and sleep deprivation affect officers when they make critical decisions to use deadly force. The researchers also discuss how often law enforcement officers are fatigued, the impacts of officer fatigue and drowsy driving, and the goal of implementing positive changes.

STEVEN JAMES: NIJ funded our research way back in 2009 which allowed us to really for the first time quantify the effects of fatigue on decisions to use deadly force. And they really were the catalyst from much of the research that we've done since then.

LOIS JAMES: Our lab at Washington State University is a simulation lab that's embedded within a Sleep and Performance Research Center. So, the lab itself has deadly force judgment decision-making simulators, driving simulators, and we're able to look at the impact of fatigue, sleep deprivation, implicit bias, and other factors on how officers make critical decisions in a very realistic simulation environment.

[ON SCREEN TEXT] How often are law enforcement officers fatigued and what are the impacts?

LOIS JAMES: We know from several large studies now that police officers are fatigued the majority of the time. About 91 percent report being routinely fatigued. About 14 percent report being fatigued at the very start of their shift, so at they're most rested.

STEVEN JAMES: So, fatigue and drowsy driving has been linked to DUI or driving under the influence of alcohol in four major studies now. They're equating being awake for 24 hours is the same as blowing a 0.10. Now, one of the real dangers of drowsy driving is that unlike alcohol where every drink we take, it increases our risk of collision in a predictable manner one drink at a time. Second drink is worse than the first, third, and so on. With drowsy driving, the effect is intermittent and it's not predictable. And what makes it worse is that we often get away with it because the lapse of attention due to fatigue has to occur at the same time that our driving environment changes. So, the car in front applies their brakes, a child runs out in the road. And because these lapses of attention due to fatigue happen when we don't have to respond to the changing situation, we get away with it and it becomes a self-reinforcing behavior.

LOIS JAMES: And we wanted to come to IACP and present on this panel because it's an incredible opportunity to get these results and this research out to a very large, very diverse, and very important audience. And that's our major goal for doing research is to actually reach the practitioners and see about getting some positive changes implemented.

Date Created: May 16, 2017