Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sleepy Cops Are Bad News

NPR recently had a piece about a unique study of how the lack of sleep affects police officers. Anyone who has worked in law enforcement will tell you, shift work, long hours and unpredictable schedules wreak havoc on your sleep patterns. The study listed these findings:
  • Those who screened positive for a sleep disorder had a 25 percent higher risk of expressing uncontrolled anger to a suspect or citizen, and a 35 percent higher chance of having a citizen complaint filed against them.
  • Sleep-deprived officers had 51 percent greater odds of falling asleep while driving on duty.
  • One in three officers has sleep apnea – waking up repeatedly because breathing has temporarily stopped. That's at least 8 times higher than the rate among the general population.
  • They had a 43 percent higher chance of making a serious administrative error.
This story comes on the heels of recent FAA rules that limit the amount of hours a pilot can work to reduce the chances that a sleep deprived pilot will make a fatal error. 

Of course, while there are rules about how long a pilot or a truck driver can work without rest, there are no rules about how long a police officer can work without sleep. Yet, the idea that a sleep deprived officer will suddenly be called to make a split second life or death decision is pretty scary indeed. 

Back when I was a sworn officer, the longest stretch I worked without a break was 36 hours straight. I can't imagine that by the time the 35th hour rolled around I was in too good a shape to make any serious life or death decision. In fact, I can't imagine I was in any shape to even make a decision about where to get a cup of coffee. 

While agencies may have their own rules about how long an officer can work without rest, there are likely many agencies that have no such rules. Maybe it's about time they do. 

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