In discussing limitations of her study, Riedy acknowledges that factors other than fatigue may be influential in generating the abundance of complaints against night-shift officers, including the very nature of night-shift work. She explains:
“Nighttime interactions between the public and police tend to have a higher potential for violence, and nightshift officers are more likely to receive calls about public intoxication, inappropriate conduct, domestic disputes or violence, and fights/brawls than day-shift officers,” exposing them disproportionately to known incubators of suspect dissatisfaction.
The nature of complaints tallied in this project “was not available,” Riedy says, so a comparison between daytime and nighttime complaints was not possible.
Even so, she points out, the study found that “working court hours between consecutive night shifts increased the odds of public complaints over consecutive night shifts alone, [and] this result suggests that sleep loss and fatigue have an effect separate from the nature of night shifts.”
More research is needed to further illuminate the fatigue/complaint relationship and to guide changes in policy and practices that might reduce the risk involved, Riedy says. Her in-progress dissertation will in part address the relationships between fatigue and job performance.
Meanwhile, measures to improve sleep for officers working nights can be pursued, such as establishing night courts that officers can service while on duty or designating napping rooms they can used while waiting for daytime court calls while off-duty.
Riedy says that a highly regarded online educational program from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health that helps nurses better manage shift work is currently being adapted for police by WSU Sleep Center researchers Drs. Lois and Stephen James.
Another potential she cites could be a departmental “hazard identification system” that monitors for fatigue-related errors and incidents, offers officers adequate rest-break opportunities on duty, and helps them maximize effective sleep practices when they’re not working.
While not included specifically in the study, Riedy suspects that other common sleep robbers—moonlighting and overtime—play a significant role in fatigue-related complaints too. “Increasing work hours tends to decrease sleep opportunities,” she told Force Science News.
Riedy’s study, titled “U.S. Police Rosters: Fatigue and Public Complaints,” is published by the journal Sleep. Click the button below to view a free abstract along with ordering details of the highly technical full copy of the study.