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Imagine driving your patrol car home after a long shift, then realizing that you’re 30 miles past your exit. That’s what happened to Capt. Don Kester of the Pima County (Ariz). Sheriff’s Office when he fell asleep at the wheel, exhausted from working a long shift.
Although it’s not often talked about, fatigue is “a huge issue in law enforcement,” Kester says. He presented a session with Capt. Ed Allen of the Seminole County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Department on contemporary issues in law enforcement and SWAT at the recent SHOT show in Las Vegas.
As Kester and Allen point out, fatigue management is particularly an issue for LE supervisors. “We let our pride get in the way, especially on SWAT: I’m not throwing the call over to the city,” Kester says. “But you could be sending someone to their death.”
So what can agencies and LEOs do to combat the effects of fatigue?
• Raise awareness of the issue. Stop hiding from it.
• Encourage good sleep habits—Kester admits this is nearly impossible for most officers, but it is still worth doing.
• Cap OT—Kester’s agency caps shifts at 16 hours. Of course special occasions may arise, but the overall rule applies.
• Train supervisors to recognize the symptoms of fatigue,
• Provide sensible nutritional choices for SWAT officers at long-duration incidents. If necessary, work with your local medics to choose the right fluids and foods to provide. The days of buying a bunch of hamburgers for the crew should be over, Kester notes.
• Pay special attention to officers when deployed at long incidents where heat or cold is a factor.
LEOs will always be called on to put in long hours, and it’s not easy work. But taking some proactive steps to reduce the effects of fatigue could save your life, or the life of one of your officers.