Glens Falls Police Chief Tony Lydon believes that if his officers worked a 12-hour shift instead of the traditional 8 hours, he would be able to retain more staff and save the city money.
Lydon contends that many officers leave for other jobs because of the opportunity to work days or fewer overnight shifts.
That turnover can be expensive for the city in training new officers.
Our initial concern, despite the prevalence of departments across the region that have adopted 12-hour shifts, is that 12-hour shifts lead to fatigue, compromise reaction time and make police officers’ jobs more dangerous.
We did some research on the subject and were surprised to learn that there is growing concern over these compressed shifts within the law enforcement community and shift work in general.
The National Institute of Justice confirms that sleep disorders are common among officers who work demanding schedules that include substantial overtime, high levels of stress and irregular sleep patterns.
According to its studies, the result can be “severe fatigue that degrades officers’ cognition, reaction time and alertness and impairs their ability to protect themselves and the communities they serve.”
Those are pretty strong words that should concern us all.
One recent study from the NIJ found sleep disorders are twice as prevalent among police officers compared to the general public. Researchers examined 4,957 state and local law enforcement officers in the United States and Canada and found that just over 40 percent had at least one disorder such as sleep apnea (33.6 percent) or insomnia (6.5 percent).
“These findings illustrate the necessity of having proper screening instruments available to detect sleep-related problems among officers. Not only is this a health and wellness issue, it is also an issue that can lead to performance problems over the course of their careers.”
The study also found that officers with sleep disorders were more likely than their peers to make serious administrative errors or safety violations, fall asleep while driving or experience ‘uncontrolled anger’ toward suspects.”
There was also a study conducted by the Police Foundation that addressed the issue at hand regarding 12-hour shifts.
It conducted a “randomized controlled experiment” that examined how shift work affects officer performance, safety, health, quality of life and fatigue.
The researchers randomly assigned 275 officers in Detroit, Michigan and Arlington, Texas to work three types of shifts for six months — the traditional 8-hour shift, a 10-hour shift and a 12-hour shift.
The study revealed the optimal shift for police officers was 10 hours, saying the extra 30 minutes of sleep officers report each night amounted to 150 extra hours of sleep a year. They said that was significant.
Officers working 12-hour shifts reported greater levels of sleepiness and lower levels of alertness than those assigned to 8-hour shifts.
Researchers noted that subjects often “underestimate” their level of fatigue and “because previous research showed that risk for accidents increases with the number of hours worked, caution should be used when considering adopting 12-hour shifts.”
We hope the results of these studies are something that Chief Lydon and the Common Council give some weight to before going forward. There may be others worth considering as well.
The data also indicated the length of a shift did not impact personal lives, but that officers working 10-hour shifts reported higher quality of “work life.” The study also found that those working 10-hour shifts worked the least amount of overtime.
We’re not sure how much research local law enforcement officials and local police unions have done on this subject, but considering the health impact on officers, it should be reviewed by all of them and screenings for sleep disorders should be part of an annual physical.
Officers and their unions have embraced the 12-hour work days in recent years because of an increased quality of life in their personal lives. But if it means a higher risk for their health, it might not be worth it.