Police Fatigue – Studying the Schedule.

By Brian WHITE – President of 911ABC

For 160 years, police agencies have been struggling to provide 24/7 man-power coverage to a workload which rises and falls depending on the hour and day of the week.

Right from the start, schedules were put together which provided each man his weekly work hours and days off . These were set in a recurring pattern, generally providing a uniform number of officers on duty for all hours of the day and night seven days a week. Eight hours was the standard work day.

Today, little has changed, although there are now numerous variations of these older shift models, as well as “Compressed Work Week” schedules, which essentially extend daily work hours, and yield more days off.

None of these models can, or do comply to a SERVICE MODEL. They each follow the 'cookie-cutter' approach, in that every officer in the group has to follow the one basic rotation, with very few options.

The math involved in designing a shift schedule is fairly simple, just hit the following marks.

  1. 40 hour work week.

  2. More officers scheduled during peak (evening) periods, and less officers scheduled during slow periods (early morning) – (A SERVICE MODEL)

  • My research indicates that generally, calls for service peak between 7pm and 8pm and bottom out between 4am and 5am.

  • Sunday to Thursday call volume is about 90% of that of Saturday, whilst Friday is about 95% of Saturday volume.

  • Low volume (early mornings), is about 35% of peak volume.

  1. Shifts must not be too long (12 hours is the recognized maximum)

The Conundrum

Any schedule with 5 platoons will invariably result in a 5 week rotation, placing officers on 3 rotating shifts.. A maximum of 20% of total manpower is available at any time over a 24 hour period. These schedules will contain 'spikes' of 100 per cent during any overlap or staggering of shifts. These spikes are generally short in nature and rarely happen at peak periods This 'double shifting' at overlap is of little use as it requires double resourcing (for instance extra radios, vehicles etc.), and are often used by managers to reduce time owed, as the schedule does not supply enough officers at other times. Invariably these schedules produce a work/life imbalance.(low incidence of days off and weekends)

Any schedule with 4 Platoons will result in a 42 hour work week, 12 hour shifts, and an 8 day rotation., and will produce a flat deployment model of 25% of total manpower over the 24 hours. Although producing a 50 per cent ratio of work to days off, the nature of rotation severely curtails week-ends off.

Any version of all these examples is guaranteed to induce fatigue, as well as work/family life imbalance, as the schedule is not tied to service demand. This means that officers are required to manage heavy workloads with insufficient available manpower at peak service times, whilst carrying the burden of a crippling schedule which is impairing their performance..

A graphing of all schedules in use in the U.K. show that there is a drastic disconnect between manpower and call demand and are only 30 to 40 per cent EFFICIENT – see Comparison of Schedules .

These outmoded models fail miserably to reach the goals identified by Dr. Bryan Vila PhD, (professor of Criminal Justice at Washington State University Spokane) in his article MANAGING POLICE FATIGUE – A HIGH WIRE ACT. (R.C.M.P. Gazette magazine, Vol. 70, No. 3)

Using the following 3 categories of risk, I have authored a SCHEDULE EVALUATION tool which quantifies those risk factors for any police schedule. The results identify precursors to risks associated with that schedule.

  • FATIGUE - (expressed as a Fatigue Index)
  • EFFICIENCY OF THE SCHEDULE - (scoring how well the schedule matches the Service Model)
    INNEFFICIENCY OF THE SCHEDULE will contribute to fatigue which may be a factor in chronic absenteeism.
  • WORK/FAMILY LIFE BALANCE (Day off ratio and weekend (Saturday and Sunday) off ratio)
It is useful when comparing the current shift model to a proposed shift model.See Schedule Evaluation
An AUDIT, using this tool, of schedules being studied will easily pinpoint potential risk factors.

One hundred and sixty year old bad habits are tough to change, but Police Management, Police Unions and Police Officers have to face the reality that these schedules DO NOT WORK!

A New Approach

Using computer modelling, which added some new dimensions to the mix, such as

  • varying shift length and start/finish times

  • adding some fixed shifts

  • creating a new overall rotation

  • having the ability to structure line-up to better match SERVICE MODEL.

I have developed a NEW Two Platoon (A and B) system, the WHITE Universal Police Schedule.

This schedule satisfies Items 1., 2. and 3. above, and is described in detail in Comparison of Schedules.

This schedule pays special attention to the many points made by Dr. Vila, such as balancing needs by having sufficient officers on duty, balancing officer's and society's rhythms, need for a balance in the officer's work/family life and stability of the schedule.

This new schedule removes the risk factors of rotating shifts and stunt shifts, as it employs alternate shifting only after days off. Officers are more involved when migrating to this schedule, as they have the choice of a a number of options such as early/late starts, alternating or fixed shifts.

This shift system is configurable to suit local conditions, such as number of officers and local peak demand times (which can be changed for each day of the week).

Public Safety and Officer Health and Safety is enhanced by having 50% more officers available during peak demand times. (where most fatigue occurs)

A demonstration of these concepts, and comparisons is available here

However, there is strong evidence to suggest that proposed changes in schedules are often the subject of lengthy, heated contract negotiations, mediation and arbitration between Police Management and Police Unions. Front line officers rarely have any input (although any change in schedules is a contentious issue.)
A good start in evaluating any schedule is to submit it to a standard test, which can identify risk factors such a fatigue (using a fatigue index), average rest period between shifts, work/family life balance (Day Off/Weekend Off ratio) and efficiency rating (based on a standard or local SERVICE MODEL). See Sample Evaluations.

Officers have contorted their lives to accommodate these debilitating schedules, and see any change in the schedule as dismantling their lives only to re-assemble them to accommodate the new schedule.

Whilst the arguments go on, officers are left to face the risk that all outmoded schedules pose to them in more than a few ways.

The public continues to pour taxes into policing, but still, like officers, are being short-changed by inefficient deployment of resources by Police Management.

Police shift work will always be the root cause of fatigue, but working a 'kinder' and safer shift schedule will surely lessen the impact of other work induced stresses.

A good Family/Work Life balance will also go a long way to making officer's lives more manageable and enjoyable.

Author: Brian WHITE

Retired member Toronto Police Service
Life Member of the Toronto Police Association.
Past member of The Police Federation of England and Wales.
President of 911ABC