Police Officer Fatigue: The Effects of Consecutive Night Shift Work on Police Officer Performance
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Police officers frequently work long, irregular and fatiguing shifts, including night shifts. The effects of night shift work on both waking alertness and ability to sleep during the day may result in degraded police officer performance during operational tasks such as driving and decision making, especially in ambiguous and fast-paced situations. Such decrements in performance by police officers can have catastrophic effects on officers, police departments, municipal governments, and the public through increasing the risk of accidents and injuries. This study examined the effects of consecutive night shift work on police officer performance using a unique research design combining controlled laboratory measures of performance and police officers working actual night shifts in the field. Measures included simulated routine driving, psychomotor vigilance, and simulated deadly force decision making as well as subjective sleepiness. N=30 police patrol officers were studied on two separate occasions during their normal duty cycle: in the morning immediately following five consecutive night shifts, and at the same time in the morning following three days off duty. Mixed-effects analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed degraded simulated driving (F1,78=6.78; P=0.011), vigilance (F1,161=14.06; P<0.001), and increased subjective sleepiness (F1,84=96.99; P<0.001) following five consecutive night shifts on duty compared to three days off duty. Repeated measures ANOVA also showed significantly different false alarm rates (F1,53=4.82; P=0.033) with higher instances of false alarms occurring following the night shift condition, and sensitivity, or ability to detect a threat presented, (F1,53=5.94; P=0.018) with increased signal sensitivity seen during the control condition.Police officers experienced degraded simulated driving and psychomotor vigilance, impaired simulated deadly force decision making performance, and higher subjective sleepiness following consecutive night shifts on duty. These results indicate that police officers are suffering the effects of night shift work on operational performance, creating a safety risk for themselves and the public. Additionally, the success of this study, involving combined laboratory and field data collection, indicates that the study is a useful approach for investigating the relationship between shift work induced fatigue and operational performance.