Tired Cops Pose Risk to Themselves and their Communities
A study of police officers in four medium-sized metropolitan departments predicts that nearly half of all police nationwide have clinical sleep pathologies, and as many as six percent of the officers on duty at any time may be as highly impaired by fatigue as if they were legally drunk.
Bryan Vila, associate professor in the University of Wyoming Department of Criminal Justice, and Dennis Jay Kenney, John Jay College criminal justice professor, conducted the study, funded by the U.S. National Institute of Justice, for the Police Executive Research Forum.
Noting there are no work hour standards for police, Vila says that fatigue arising from sleep loss ma be expected to increase the probability that officers will be involved in official misconduct and worsen relations among themselves, their families, and their communities.
Vila suggests that one reason for ignoring police fatigue is a set of unrealistic physical and emotional expectations society has for patrol officers. Cops often have to help people resolve complicated, emotionally charged and threatening situations; stay alert during long periods of boredom; and perform their duties while exhausted.
Fewer than 26 percent of participating officers reported averaging seven or more hours of sleep per day; health experts and sleep researchers have established seven hours of sleep per day are required for humans to function properly. Nearly 12 percent of officers reported averaging fewer than five hours of sleep per day.
Fourteen percent of participants reported being "always" or "usually" tired at the beginning of their patrol shifts; nearly 16 percent reported trouble staying awake during normal activities such as driving, eating meals or engaging in social activities.
According to the study, a much larger proportion of officers who later were involved in on-duty accidents and/or injuries reported having sleep pathologies.
Vila found that police officers who work longer days, but fewer days per week, are less likely to be tired at the start of their shifts, perhaps because they have more time for recuperation, less commuting time, and fewer overtime assignments at the end of their shifts. Additionally, the study suggested that greater regularity in work hours results in less fatigue at the beginning of work shifts, that more days off might enhance officer work fitness, and that officers with shorter commutes experience significantly less fatigue.