Force Science News #177:

Opening our inbox on provocative questions about cop fatigue

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our hearty congratulations to certified Force Science Analyst Brian Willis on his selection as Law Enforcement Trainer of the Year for 2011. Editor Dale Stockton of Law Officer Magazine, which sponsors the annual award, conferred the honor at the recent ILEETA training conference, drawing a sustained standing ovation from nearly 700 attendees representing agencies in 5 countries.


Retired from Calgary Police Service in Canada and now president of Winning Mind Training, Willis is the first trainer outside the United States to win the covered award. “There were a lot of nominees,” Stockton says, “but his name just rose to the top.” His nominator wrote: “When students and trainers need someone to talk to, Brian is always there to listen and offer support. He is known for his patience, kindness, and willingness to listen and can quickly provide sound guidance.”


Nice going, Brian! Well-earned!


Opening our inbox on provocative questions about cop fatigue


Readers of Force Science News offered an outpouring of opinions about the 2 provocative questions regarding police fatigue posed in Transmission #174, sent 3/25/11.


We asked whether officers should be sent home “if they appear to supervisors to be too tired to work safely and effectively” and whether agencies should “regulate the number of hours officers can work on off-duty jobs” as fatigue-fighting measures.


All responses have been forwarded to Dr. Bryan Vila of the Sleep and Performance Research Center at Washington State University-Spokane, for use in his on-going research into police fatigue.


“The letters are very helpful—exactly the kind of anecdotal information we need,” Vila says. He expressed particular satisfaction with reports of supervisors and agencies accepting restorative naps as a fatigue countermeasure, something he has advocated for more than 20 years. “The key to making change,” he says, “is believing that things can change and working for incremental improvements.”


Here’s a representative sampling of the dozens of responses we received, edited for brevity and clarity. The writers are speaking for themselves and not as voices for their agencies.



Supervisors duty-bound to address fatigue


A civil suit or criminal action (depending on the circumstances) can be taken against a police department for failing to take action if an officer is incapable of performing his/her duties. A supervisor is duty-bound to address such incidents. If the officer in question is injured on duty, or injury results to a fellow officer, members of the community, or a subject being taken into custody, the department and the community will be held liable.


I believe this can be addressed by simply telling the officer he needs to go home. The officer should then be permitted to use accrued time to cover his absence. If the officer complies, nothing more than documentation of the incident by the supervisor is required. If the officer develops a pattern of reporting for duty fatigued, then the supervisor needs to follow up with formal notification via the chain of command.


Departments should have a rule or regulation under the heading of Unable to Perform Duties to justify courses of action taken to address these situations. All officers and departments are chiefly recognized to fill 2 roles: to serve, and to protect the community. A fatigued officer cannot perform these basic functions.


Lt. James Gaffney


Mamaroneck (NY) PD



Fatigue counter-measures


As a supervisor I did have very tired officers working the night shifts. Here are some of the things we did:


Doubled the car—kept an active officer with the tired one

Sent them to the firehouse where we knew they were safe for a couple of hours’ rest

Let them take comp time (unless personnel were below minimums)

Let them use sick time.


The problem with ordering the officer home was always one of having to pay for the shift without an officer on the ground.


Thomas Huff


Perishable Skills Coordinator


South Bay Regional Public Safety Training Consortium


San Jose, CA



“Subject to a lot of hindsight analysis” if the worst happens


Are supervisors trained to measure the state of rest of their men? That concept could be very broad and subject to a lot of hindsight analysis in the event of an incident. However, as an officer and an attorney, I would have some concern for my agency if an officer who was obviously fatigued were sent out on patrol and was later involved in a traffic accident or OIS under anything less than black and white circumstances.


The hindsight analysis would be something along the lines of “as a supervisor, you knew or should have known that Ofcr. Jones was [insert relevant qualifier: fatigued, below par due to illness or shift changes, etc.]. Then a jury would have to be convinced that, but for Ofcr. Jones’ tiredness, the event would never have happened.


That might be possible but would it trump limited immunity from liability? Not clear.


Ptl. G. Mark Loreto


Americus (GA) PD



Agency culpability?


If you send an officer home who appears too fatigued to work and he or she falls asleep driving or is involved in an accident en route, does the agency assume some liability since they observed the fatigue before sending the officer home?


Lt. Dave King


Vancouver (WA) PD





In some agencies, one might leave home for a regular day that then doesn’t end for 36 hours, or you could work more than 12-hour days for weeks on end without a day off. How does an agency establish and enforce a fatigue policy when the needs of the agency often create the fatiguing circumstances?


Spcl. Agt. Glenn Storts


U.S. ICE Office of Investigations


El Centro, CA



Stop relying on heavy O.T.


The first point that should be considered is to have administrators who work straight days with weekends off stop relying on hiring large amounts of overtime to supplement a workforce that is not large enough to meet the needs of the community. Employers use overtime to fill vacant positions which they leave open to balance the budget. They don’t understand or appreciate what this does to their staff.


I was once forced to work 16 hours after being in court most of the day. The result: I was up 24 hours doing police work for about 18 of it. The lieutenant said he didn’t care what I did, he just needed a body to work and I was the one he picked.


Pres. Harry Valentine


Washtenaw County (MI) Deputy Sheriffs Assn.


Regulation requires uniformity


Agency regulation of off-duty work hours? Yes, but I want to see evidence to support a set number. Why would 20 hours be one department’s limit when 8 or 16 might be the limit set by another?


Capt. S. P. Foley


Reno (TX) PD



Pursue fatigue in OIS investigations


The number of hours of sleep, off-duty employment, and personal relationship issues that may be relevant should be added to the information garnered in after-action reports of OISs and line-of-duty deaths. We don’t ask and thus do not know about all the variables that may influence fatal contacts. Having this information will help save officers’ lives.


Trisha King Stargel


Ofcr., Honolulu and Kent (WA) PDs (ret.)


Alpha Dog Consultants, Inc.


Tacoma, WA



On-duty work hours need limits, too


Not just off-duty job hours should be regulated, but on-duty as well. I just reviewed a case where an officer worked a 10-hour shift, then did another 10-hour shift back-to-back for cash overtime. He got into a shooting in the final hour. It is not yet clear when he had a sleep cycle before the first shift, or how long that sleep was, or how many hours before the first shift it occurred. Was he at his best when he faced a life-and-death encounter?


Greg Meyer


Capt., LAPD (ret.)


Certified Force Science Analyst



Start solving the problem from within


We don’t need to monitor the time our officers work outside jobs, we need to monitor the behavior of officers while they are working on-duty. We should start with the way supervisors assign officer shifts, training, and court without any concern about how it affects the sleep cycle.


Lt. Michael Guido


Dickson College Public Safety


Carlisle, PA



Sent home on “sick day”


I’ve sent an officer home once. He was in the E.R. all night with his son. I saw him in the locker room and questioned his ability to work safely. Over his objection, he was sent home on a sick day. My decision was supported by the administration.


Another time one of our younger officers was at a wedding the night before his shift. He was not impaired when he arrived at work but was not fit for duty. He was put on a lunch break and told to rest in the station. Two hours later he was ready to work. We had a long talk about his responsibilities and have not had another issue.


Watch commander at an Illinois department


[Names withheld by request]



Penalize pay?


The first couple of times an officer is sent home because of fatigue, my inclination is with pay. After that, pay docked.


Dep. Jeffrey Rush


Asst. Professor of Criminal Justice


University of Louisiana-Monroe



Will fixing what’s wrong just create more problems?


With personnel too tired to work safely because of off-duty activities, when and how do we start holding them professionally responsible? Do we start after 1, 2, 3 occurrences? Do we enroll them into the Employee Assistance Program? How far do we intrude into their personal lives? Do we make them attend marriage counseling, financial counseling, parenting counseling? How would all of this be incorporated into conditions of employment? How many man hours will be exhausted to track all of this?


If an incident happens, how is all this data going to be introduced in the courtroom? Is it going to be used to protect the deputy/officer, or the agency? What if the supervisor has documentation that the deputy/officer received plenty of rest prior to this incident, however, the data shows that the deputy/officer has prior reprimands for being too tired when reporting for duty? How do we measure what is rest? What do we consider to be proper parameters for it? Will there be different scales for different age groups, genders?


I have reservations about how an administration can effectively institute such a program without creating more problems.


Sgt. Paul Kiser


Chief Medical Officer


Roanoke County (VA) SO



Sent home…then what?


If you send an officer home for fatigue, how do you cover the shift so everyone else is safe? By likening fatigue to affecting one’s performance much like alcohol or drugs, does the officer then become open to departmental charges?


Lt. Michael Saylor


Hartford County (MD) SO



“My body is in a constant flux”


On days off, I have to sleep nights and be up all day for my family. When I go back to work I have to sleep days and be up all night for work. So my body is in a constant flux of having my sleep pattern do a 180-degree flip every few days. The only way to do it and keep peace in the family is sleep deprivation.


So how would the agency regulate that? Tell the officer he can’t listen to his spouse or can’t live with his family during his work week? No, police need to look at what the fire agencies have set up: some officers would work while others sleep, then trade out. In a large emergency, everyone would roll out.


Sgt. Larry Worden


Union Gap (WA) PD



“We make truck drivers take breaks”


As an aggressive officer during 25 years on a small police agency, I generated many arrests. Our court system would not schedule a specific time for an officer to appear, so I was mandated to be in court at 9 a.m. and might not get home until 6 p.m. and be expected back to work by my 10 p.m. shift.


By law we make truck drivers take breaks in their road trips. It should be no different with LE personnel. If we make a mistake in judgment due to fatigue, you can bet your employer will hang you out to dry.


Capt. Robert Koenig


Jail administrator


Iosco County (MI) SO



Maybe just a gulp of coffee is the answer


How can your supervisor gauge how tired you are? What if all you need is that one “cup-o-joe” to get going? Today I felt extra groggy. I slept well and long enough, but had a tough time getting started. Lo and behold, a dab of caffeine did the trick.


The true knowledge of one’s needs falls within each of us. We are each responsible for knowing when we’ve had enough and need time off to recuperate. My supervisor shouldn’t be put in the position to make a possibly controversial call.


Inv. Robert Singh


State of Florida



Regulation for duty days only


A department should be able to regulate the hours an officer works while off duty, but only if it is on a day that he works for the department also. I’ve seen officers work off-duty jobs till 3 and 4 a.m. when they were due to work dayshift the next morning.


Sgt. David Barron


Evansville (IN) PD



Better sleeping aids may be key


Would a better approach to the problem of fatigue be to help us sleep better? Perhaps training in breathing, meditation, and visualization would aid officers in getting more rest.


Ofcr. Mike Reuss


Egan (MN) PD



Probe deeper to explore fatigue


Appearing extremely tired should always be investigated because it may be an underlying indicator of more serious problems, including suicidal intentions. I believe supervisors should look to an officer’s beat partner first, as he/she knows the officer’s habits best. Then privately confront the officer.


Ofcr. George Simpson


Jacksonville (FL) SO



A crazy idea?


In any 8-hour shift, whether it is days, evenings, or midnights, I find there is a brief time where my body becomes fatigued and it’s dangerous to drive or deal with a high-stress incident. Why not institute a 10- to 20-minute power nap and lift the restriction on sleeping on duty? I suggested to a commander friend who was about to be promoted that he take this issue to the chief. He asked, “Are you crazy? They will never consider me for a promotion again!”


[Name withheld]


Oakwood (OH) Public Safety Dept.



Safety break cuts risks, identifies possible problems


I’ve never sent an officer home due to apparent fatigue, but I made it very clear when I was a night shift sergeant that if officers felt tired, they should park their car in the station’s fenced lot, let me know, and take a “safety break” somewhere in the station or in their car.


I’d rather have them safe there than exposed to risk because they fell asleep out in the city or drove into the back of a parked car. That also helps identify if there is a pattern of fatigue due to some personal issue that the officer may need help with, perhaps with a referral to a confidential Employee Assistance Program.


Lt. Bill Slodysko


Bellingham (WA) PD



Naps offered, none taken


I have a standing offer to my troops to come in if they are fatigued to the point they can’t stay awake and sleep in a sleep room in the PD. I’ve yet to have someone take me up on the offer as the stigma is too great. We need to change that. Cops in Europe have for years routinely come in (call load permitting) and taken naps.


Sgt. Kevin Sailor


Taser Coordinator


Westminster (CO) PD



Threat of tired dispatchers


As a retired LEO who works part time as a public safety dispatcher, I’d love to see some research on how fatigued dispatchers can contribute, at least indirectly, to officer safety issues. We have several people who sometimes don’t get much more than a couple of hours’ sleep on their work nights because of the hours they work.


Sharon Marangoni


Berkeley (CA) PD (ret.)



“Down and dirty, logical knowledge”


Your newsletter challenges the status quo and asks the hard questions in reference to officers being injured. It is spot-on in reference to down and dirty, logical knowledge. I want to encourage our medics to look at situations with an eye for the unconventional, so I am asking to use your material as a basis for some of my classes. I want to inject some life, and yes, even controversy, into our program, because I feel the ability to accept what is not the norm is part of a growing process.


Lt. Jason Harmsen


Tactical medic team trainer


Clayton County (GA) Fire and Emergency Services

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