From CBS HealthWatch July 8, 2001
Deprivation: 'Public Enemy Number 1' for Cops
Debbie Carvalko, Medical Writer
32-ounce colas didn't pack enough caffeine to keep officer
Thomas Aveni's eyes
open at 4 AM. Aveni, a policeman working the graveyard shift in New Jersey,
steered his patrol car over to a curb and put it in park--or so he thought. When
he awoke he realized he had driven into a fence.
Aveni's accident didn't hurt him or anyone else, but other fatigued police
officers know that sleep deprivation can be deadly.
In Margate, Florida, officer Francine
Murphy was working the night shift when she ran a red light and crashed into a
van, seriously injuring the driver. Murphy admitted later that she was exhausted
from lack of sleep.
|Tired cops working
the beat is an issue nationwide.
In Muskegon Heights, Michigan, officer Lovely Jamison, working a double
shift, crashed a patrol car and was critically injured.
In Cincinnati, Ohio, officer Donald Scalf was driving home from a midnight
shift when he fell asleep at the wheel, and struck a 45-year-old jogger, killing
Tired cops working the beat is an issue nationwide. "It's the kind of
issue that, I'm afraid, is a ticking time bomb," says Aveni, now a board
member of the Police Policy Studies Council based in Spofford, New Hampshire.
"And every once in a while it goes off."
Lots of people are sleepy on the job.
So what makes concerns about the police greater? "For one thing, police
officers carry guns," says Glory Cochrane, a health educator with the
Albuquerque Police Department in New Mexico.
Cochrane cites studies, including two in a recent issue of the journal Accident
Analysis and Prevention, showing that the effects of sleep deprivation are
similar to the changes in ability and judgment seen in a person under the
influence of alcohol. "Seventeen hours without sleep is equivalent to a .05
blood alcohol level, and 24 hours without sleep is like a .01 blood alcohol
level. In most states, the legal limit for a driver is .08," says Cochrane.
And we all know that lack of sleep
shortens tempers. "Yet, aside from high-speed pursuits, police also have to
deal with suicidal subjects, and they are involved in domestic disputes where
they are the mediators, or actually pulling people apart. Police can say
something that escalates the situation ... and they do, very commonly,"
says Aveni. The 23-year police veteran is now writing a book to be used in cadet
training classes about the importance of sleep.
|The effects of sleep
deprivation are similar to the changes in ability and judgment
seen in a person under the influence of alcohol.
"In a rational world, we'd be at least as concerned about fatigue as
alcohol--whether people are fit to do a job," says Brian Vila, a former
police chief who began working as a patrolman in 1969 with the Los Angeles
The author of Tired Cops: The Importance of Managing Police Fatigue (2000,
Police Executive Research Forum), Vila is now an associate professor of
criminal justice at the University of Wyoming. He cites another deadly problem
with tired cops: Police fatigue, he says, can play a role in questionable
shootings, especially in low-light conditions.
"They are impaired," Vila
says of fatigued cops. He says many work long hours because of mandatory
overtime, even though they know it can have dangerous effects. "After the
book came out," says Vila, "I had so many email me: 'Where's the
evidence I can take to my chief? We are dying out here!'"
In an article to be published in the National Institute of Justice
Journal, Vila attributes all this overtime and exhaustion to off-duty court
appearances (expected in addition to an officer's normal shift), late arrests
and report-writing, voluntary overtime, and moonlighting. A nationwide survey he
cites shows that officers in one department each worked 100 hours overtime
Vila adds that heart and gastrointestinal disorders are relatively common for
officers working overnight or swing shifts.
The Albuquerque Police Department has decided to solve the problem. The
department earned an award and the title "Healthy Sleep Capitol" from
the National Sleep Foundation in March 2001 after the department passed a
regulation forbidding officers to work more than 16 hours a day (20 hours a week
"The effect of sleep disorders and fatigue as it relates to public
safety officials is a topic that has been ignored far too long," says
Albuquerque Deputy Chief Raymond Schultz.
Attitudes that cause staff-strapped
administrators to assign and offer overtime, rather than hire more officers, may
be tough to change in some police departments.
In Branford, Connecticut, police officers
filed a grievance earlier this year because they were being ordered to work
overtime without notice. "With this forced overtime, you can't plan, can't
take a nap, can't change the next day's schedule," says Ron Suraci,
president of the local Police Union 459. "And you're supposed to make life
and death situations when you are fatigued?"
Connecticut, police officers filed a grievance because they were
being ordered to work overtime without notice.
But Branford Deputy Chief Raymond Wiederhold says the disgruntled officers
are just a whining minority in his department.
"I'm very health-minded myself. I'm not a fat, lazy police chief who
sits here behind my desk smoking cigars, telling my men to work all of the
time," says Wiederhold. "I work more than 60 hours a week myself! No
one's health is being put in jeopardy by overtime," he says. But he admits
that the force--with 26 patrol officers in a city of some 35,000 people--is
inadequate and "could use 35 [more officers]."
Wiederhold, boasting that he's a runner and weightlifter, blames exhaustion
on union officers' personal habits--like smoking and drinking alcohol.
"Double shifts, for most guys, are not a problem. A double shift never hurt
|Changing the "Sleep
What do the Exxon Valdez oil
spill and the space shuttle Challenger explosion have in
Mark Rosekind, a board member of the National Sleep Foundation based
in Washington, DC, and president and chief scientist at Alertness
Solutions, a consulting firm in Cupertino, California, says he wishes
the answer would shock people into cutting overtime work.
Both disasters involved "fatigued people making critical
decisions," he says. "The first mate on the Valdez had been
working 30 hours," Rosekind says. During the night of March 24,
1989, the Valdez oil carrier ran aground, spilling some 11 million
gallons of oil into Prince William Sound.
On January 28, 1986, NASA managers preparing the space shuttle Challenger
launch "had been working long shifts--more than 20 hours--before
making the critical decision on whether or not to go, with what they
knew about the O-rings." The O-rings failed and caused the
explosion, says Rosekind, who was later hired as director of NASA's
Fatigue Countermeasures Program.
Rosekind left NASA in 1997 to start his own company. "I thought:
'Here's all this information [on the effects of sleep deprivation] and
nobody's getting it.' It was time to get out of the lab and do something
about it," he says.
Alertness Solutions now consults with businesses like airlines,
railway companies, and trucking firms seeking ways to avoid
fatigue-related accidents and boost productivity.
The data it shares include statistics showing that working double
shifts can be as damaging as drinking double martinis. Sleep deprivation
can reduce attention and vigilance by 50%, decision-making ability by
50%, communication skills by 30%, and memory by 20%, says Rosekind.
But the sleep-deprived may sense no change in their abilities.
"There is a big gap between how people feel and how they really
are," he explains. "This is a real issue--a health issue--and
it puts people at risk!"
But there is, he adds, a "historical and cultural" bias
against reducing overtime work or rejecting it. "It's a macho
thing. Saying you are fatigued means you are too tired and lazy, that
you don't have 'the right stuff,'" he says. "But at some point
if you sleep-deprive your brain, you are going to pay for that ... and
we are paying, with lives."
Debbie Carvalko is a
freelance medical writer based in Connecticut.
Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Reviewed for medical accuracy by physicians
at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Harvard Medical School. BIDMC
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