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Study Indicates Link Between Officer Fatigue and Public Complaints

by Betty Nelander

Nighttime police encounters tend to be more unsettling than those that occur during the day, a new study confirms.

Public complaints against cops rise when they work the night shift, a time when they are more likely to be fatigued. Eighty-six percent of public complaints against the officers were documented on a night shift and 58 percent “after an officer had worked a consecutive night shift the previous day,” the study found.

Blame it on lack of sleep, noted researchers from Washington State University and Central Queensland University at the 32nd annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in June. Their conclusions were based on data from a U.S. Department of Justice-funded study in which four police departments reported on 32,712 shifts worked by 379 police officers.

The data revealed that officers tended to be more fatigued working nights. Complaints climbed when the officers worked back-to-back night shifts or worked court hours between night shifts. The daytime court hours were, in fact, times that night shift officers should have been sleeping or at least resting.

As fatigue increased, odds of a citizen complaint increased. Similarly, as predicted sleepiness levels increased, odds of a citizen complaint continued to increase, lead author and Ph.D. student Samantha M. Riedy, of the Sleep and Performance Research Center at Washington State University Spokane, told Forensic Magazine.

The four police departments in the study reported work hours and on-duty accidents, and two of the departments reported public complaints (for 15,744 shifts). Both fatigue and sleepiness levels were predicted using a biomathematical model, taking in the hours that officers rested and worked.

“Even though there weren’t a lot of complaints (37 total), there was still a large enough signal for the relationship to be picked up,” Riedy said. “There’s been some recent research conducted by some professors at Washington State University that indicates that greater fatigue is actually associated with how well the police officers are able to manage their encounters with the public, and their ability to de-escalate conflict.”

She suggested an education program much like nurses have to handle shift work and long work hours and having sleep rooms in the courthouse. 



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