Becoming a Police Officer: Risks (page 3)

Updated on Dec 2, 2010

Shift Work

Shift work, which can be defined either as being expected to report for work at different times during a workweek or working nights, overnights (sometimes called the graveyard shift), or even weekends is not unique to policing but it is something that all police officers face at different times in their careers. Some effects of shift work that have been detected are fatigue due to too little sleep or irregular sleep; irritability; and eating and digestive problems. Changing shifts frequently or irregularly increases these problems because often, just as the body becomes adjusted to a particular work/rest schedule, it is changed.

In addition, shift work can affect not only the officer, but also the officer's family. Family members are required to tiptoe around the house when an officer is sleeping during the day, eat irregularly in order to have meals with a parent, or be forced to spend time with caregivers other than their parents. Although shift work is common in many fields, police officers are required to change their shifts more often than others or to be on call frequently for real or anticipated emergencies.

In past decades, it was not uncommon for officers to work so-called rotating shifts, which might have required changing shifts as often as every three or four days. Those types of schedules are less common today as departments have moved to steady shifts. This may mean an officer works the same tour for months or even for as long as he or she cares to once a certain level of seniority has been achieved. Where shifts are still changed regularly, officers will be likely to work the same duty hours for two weeks or a few months, which allows for body rhythm changes to be less abrupt and provides an opportunity for families to establish more stable routines.

The same theory is used in determining non-work days. Since policing requires that someone always work weekends, departments have developed schedules where officers remain on the same hours but move their days off based on a system that permits everyone to have all or part of the weekend off a set number of times in, for instance, a six-month period. Many departments, with encouragement from their unions, permit officers to swap days off, so that a colleague can work in your place if you have an event you really want to attend.

Stress-related concerns have also played a role in changing from an eighthour to a ten-hour day. Officers work longer hours, but fewer days, allowing them more personal and family time. Almost without exception, departments that have changed to four days of 10-hour tours to accommodate the most common 40-hour workweek have found that officers favor this system. As the costs of commuting increase, the 4-day workweek is a financial as well as a psychological benefit.

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