Many civilians have no idea of the reality and personal sacrifices of working as a police officer. Being a police officer does require long working days and under stressful conditions. Working long hours is part of the requirements and law enforcement culture that is not in the brochure. Working when fatigued benefits no one. Not the citizens, not your squad, and not the fatigued officer. When you are fatigued, you lose cognitive ability to make good decisions and react quickly. Simple stated, working while fatigued is an officer safety issue.
Court dates, required training, and shift work easily extends the workday, especially if a major incident occurs. With a national law enforcement recruiting crisis and retention issues getting worse. With budget cuts, many of the unfilled commission police officer positions are simply not being filled. The reality is departments are forced to work shorthanded. This can lead to career burnout when you have no planned time off to recharge the batteries.
Moonlighting or working part time employment as a uniformed officer for extra money is a norm across the country. Officers work part time to provide extra money for their families. It is not uncommon for officers to put in 14+ hours a day before they get back home. That does not leave much personal time with the family or rest before the next day starts. Is it any wonder that officers are working fatigued.
With the work life balance almost nonexistent for officers, this takes a toll on their personal relationships. Divorce rates in the profession are high and even domestic violence incidents are high. How many special family occasions do officers miss because they are working and not at home for the child’s ball game, or the school play? All of these things can lead an officer to feel guilty that leads to additional stress and possible health problems.
Working long hours can lead to poor eating habits by just grabbing fast food and an energy drink to try and stay alert in between calls. Poor eating habits and not exercising regularly can quickly lead to struggles managing a healthy weight. Not staying in shape is another officer safety fact.
Each officer must take personal responsibility to show up ready to work and rested. It is not easy, but you must hold yourself accountable to make healthy choices and not make excuses, which become a habit. If you show up to work fatigued, are you helping your squad accomplish the mission and go home safe?
Limit the amount of off duty part-time employment. Remember this should be extra disposable money for the family, not a necessity to keep the lights on. Live within your means and work towards creating a realistic family budget. As someone once said, remember you have a family to feed not a community to impress.
Limit the amount of caffeine and energy drinks, so that when you do get home and it is time for bed, you are not watching the paint dry on the bedroom ceiling because you are wired.
Learn to control the things that you can, and the things you have no power over, just make it work for you as best you can. Use emotional intelligence and react to change with confidence.
Just recognizing fatigue is an officer safety issue is the first step to addressing the problem and finding solutions so you can have a healthy and productive career. Career burnout occurs when you stop trying to make a difference and give into the negative noise.
About the Author:
Mark Bond worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms trainer for more than 30 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state, and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in Criminal Justice, and M.Ed. in Educational Leadership with Summa Cum Laude Honors. Mark has a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) with a concentration in college teaching and learning. Mark is currently an associate professor of human justice at a university and has been teaching in the classroom and online for 23 years.