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One Agency’s Innovation for Easing Shift Fatigue

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We’ve reported previously on the dangers of fatigue in policing, but we haven’t described a creative countermeasure, typified by the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office in Redwood City, CA.

To help deputies who would otherwise face exhausting commutes after long shifts, the SO has established 2 free “crash pads” where personnel can get adequate sleep before going back on duty.

One is a house in a residential neighborhood of Redwood City, south of San Francisco, where 5 rooms have been outfitted with 14 beds. Another 4 beds have been installed in a substation located at Moss Beach on the far western edge of the county on the Pacific coast.

Lt. Steve Shively of the SO’s Professional Standards Unit, which oversees the facilities, estimates that 28 to 34 deputies use the Redwood City house each week. Traffic is somewhat lighter at the substation because fewer personnel are assigned to that area. Technically, any of the sheriff’s 500 employees, including corrections officers and maintenance workers, can use the accommodations.

The bed space “is a great benefit,” Shively told Force Science News, “because we work 12-hour shifts. The day shift works 2 days on and 2 off, and the night shift is 4 on and 4 off. If commuting time is added to shift time, that doesn’t allow for much sleep.”

Indeed, in order to find affordable housing in the inflated California market, some deputies have to drive 2 to 3 hours between work and home. Between-shifts access to the free beds “serves as an important fatigue buffer,” Shively says, and, also important these days, it saves gas money.

Another “big benefit” is that the beds keep more personnel “within a short distance” in the county in the event of an emergency, “such as a fire, a flood, an earthquake, a terrorist attack,” he points out.

The county pays $3,800 a month rent for the Redwood City house. Personnel sign up in advance on a first-come first-served basis for the privilege of flopping there, and the place is monitored to assure that no Animal House atmosphere develops.

“We’ve had no complaints,” Shively says. “Our guys realize what a huge benefit this is, and they’re not about to mess it up. They basically drop in, go to sleep, and get up for their next shift. They’re aware that everyone’s there for sleeping.”

Currently only males are using the house, but when females register a bedroom can be assigned exclusively for them.

Several other agencies in California are looking into the SO’s arrangement, Shively says. “We’re getting inquiries regularly.”

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