Across the country, mandatory overtime is common among law enforcement agencies. What is the impact of these extra work hours on the safety and well-being of police officers?
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One crucial factor that can impact officer safety and performance is fatigue. Fatigue can affect anyone, and it can be hazardous for law enforcement officers who must always remain alert and focused on their duties.
The dangers of fatigue in police officers
Studies have shown that fatigue is a prevalent issue among law enforcement officers. The National Institute of Justice reports that 95% of law enforcement officers experienced fatigue while on duty. The National Sleep Foundation found that 60% of police officers report that they get less than the recommended amount of sleep each night. 
Fatigue can lead to impaired judgment, slower reaction times and decreased situational awareness, which can compromise officer safety and result in adverse outcomes for the public.
For example, tired officers may be more prone to making mistakes, misreading situations and reacting inappropriately to situations. This could lead to officer-involved shootings, accidents and other serious incidents.
According to the FBI, fatigue contributed to 37% of all officer-involved shootings between 2011 and 2016.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that fatigue contributed to 16% of all fatal motor vehicle crashes involving law enforcement officers between 2000 and 2009. 
Fatigue can also lead to adverse physical and psychological effects. Fatigued officers may experience chronic fatigue syndrome, mood swings, depression and anxiety. Additionally, studies have shown that tired officers are more prone to making errors, which can lead to costly lawsuits, lower morale and decreased public trust. A University of Arizona study found that fatigued officers were significantly more likely to make errors when processing crime scenes,  while a National Institute of Justice study found that fatigued officers were more likely to use force and less likely to follow departmental procedures. 
Signs of officer fatigue
It is essential that law enforcement supervisors be aware of the signs of officer fatigue. The following are some of the most common signs of fatigue:
- Slower reaction times
- Difficulty focusing or paying attention
- Irritability or mood swings
- Lack of motivation or energy
- Difficulty staying awake or falling asleep
- Forgetfulness or confusion
- Poor decision-making abilities
If a supervisor notices any of these signs in an officer, it is essential to take immediate action to address the situation.
Actionable steps for law enforcement supervisors
The following are some actionable steps that supervisors can take:
1. Utilize a fatigue survey and other methods to determine fatigue
One of the most effective ways to identify and address officer fatigue is to utilize a fatigue survey. A fatigue survey is a tool that can be used to identify officers who are experiencing fatigue and provide them with the necessary resources and support. The survey can be administered periodically to all officers to assess their level of fatigue.
Other methods to determine fatigue include observing officer behavior, reviewing officer schedules and assessing officer workload. Supervisors should take a holistic approach to assess fatigue levels in officers and consider all factors that could contribute to fatigue.
2. Educate officers on the dangers of fatigue
It is essential for law enforcement supervisors to educate officers on the dangers of fatigue and the impact it can have on their safety and performance. Officers should be made aware of the signs of fatigue and encouraged to report any symptoms they may be experiencing.
3. Monitor officer workload and schedule
Law enforcement supervisors should monitor officer workload and schedule to ensure officers are not overworked or working excessively long hours. Supervisors should also provide officers with adequate rest and recovery time between shifts.
4. Provide resources and support for fatigued officers
If a supervisor identifies an officer suffering from fatigue, they should provide the necessary resources and support. This could include counseling, training on stress management, and time off to rest and recover. Documenting any counseling or steps taken to address the situation is also essential.
Fatigue is a prevalent issue among law enforcement officers that can significantly impact officer safety and performance. Law enforcement supervisors must address officer fatigue promptly, utilizing tools such as fatigue surveys to identify officers experiencing fatigue and providing resources and support to address the situation.
Supervisors must also educate officers on the dangers of fatigue and monitor officer workload and schedule to ensure that officers are not overworked or working excessively long hours. By taking these steps, law enforcement agencies can help ensure that officers remain safe and effective in carrying out their duties, leading to better outcomes for officers and their communities.
1. National Sleep Foundation. 2011 Sleep in America Poll.
2. National Institute of Justice. (2017.) Officer Safety and Wellness: An Overview.
3. Moline ML, Watkins RO, Sussman EJ. (2010.) Fatigue effects in forensic science: a review of the literature. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 55(4):989-996.