Fatigue is a well-known adversary to peak human performance. It is an equal opportunity enemy; it does not discriminate against young or old, rookie or veteran, or even sworn or civilian. Fatigue can attack people doing simple tasks with just as much ease as those doing complex tasks. However, when it attacks in high-consequence occupations, such as the transportation, energy, or public safety sectors, there is an increased potential for a catastrophic outcome.
The notable disasters in transportation and energy brought government regulators, management, employee bargaining units (unions), and workers themselves to cooperate in achieving and maintaining a “safety culture.” Early aviators and pioneers in energy were not safety-oriented; they were, in fact, thrill-seekers and daredevils. When aviation and energy sectors achieved a mastery level over their fields, the general public gained enough confidence to participate, but there were still risks.
On June 30, 1956, two commercial aircraft departed Los Angeles International Airport less than three minutes apart, transporting passengers to Kansas City and Chicago. While passing over the Grand Canyon, the Trans World Airline L-1049 Super Constellation bound for Kansas City and the United Airlines DC-7, bound for Chicago, collided in midair (1). This aviation catastrophe was the catalyst for the type of highly regulated air traffic control that the world depends on today. Four accidents in the nuclear energy sector, Three Mile Island (Pennsylvania 1979), Rancho Seco (California 1985), and Oak Harbor (Ohio 1985) Chernobyl (Ukraine 1986), drove the change to a safety culture in the energy sector.
As a career field, police work has also experienced many disasters related to human factors, including fatigue. While these individual disasters have been the catalyst for research, they have not resulted in a groundswell of support for a safety culture. This could be because each police incident, while catastrophic to the individuals involved, did not result in mass casualties or the potential for mass casualties. Another perspective is that only police officers deal with an intelligent adversary. In energy, the power can be turned off, and in aviation, flights can be canceled, but when a suspect is killing on a school ground, every second an officer delays means more students, faculty, and staff will die.
It is that need to move toward danger, sometimes without regard for grave personal consequences, that police and fire career fields have such difficulty moving from a “bravery culture” to a “safety culture.” While highly credible and worthwhile, police studies have focused on shift work, compressed work schedules, moonlighting, and related human factors such as driving and decisions to use force (2) (3). Some studies have even focused on compassion fatigue related to being in a constant state of caring for people suffering in some form of disaster. (4)
These are dangerous occupations, which in many instances cannot be made safe. Shift work will not ever go away, and neither will danger. As a supportive community, as police managers, as labor organizations, and as officers, we must find innovative ways to hold proudly to the bravery and merge when possible with a seemingly incompatible safety culture. It is vitally important that this be accomplished without the catalyst of a mass casualty incident.
In a day of massive social change, and during a world pandemic that seems to reveal more societal inequities, police officers as a group are targeted with blame. Even the most supportive managers, and some elected officials, seem powerless to prevent movements such as defunding the police. If what we already know about police fatigue is true, police are at risk now more than ever.
As crime goes up, as it most certainly will, the unintended consequences will be more work, longer shifts, and more complex decisions. Communities will be forced to hire off duty police to accomplish details no longer covered by department budgets. Innovations such as those made by the startup company Illuno, Texas company, created a world-class marketplace for off-duty police, hiring contractors, and police departments. Illuno is special in that it actually gives back a percentage of every dollar earned to the police departments that use it. Similar to other notable charitable business models by great companies (buy a shoe, give a shoe; TOMS), Illuno is proactively finding ways to re-fund officer training, resources, and non-lethal equipment, so our communities are safer.
The Illuno software will allow anyone in America to hire police based on their address or GPS location. The features allow department sharing, so when smaller departments can’t fill a detail, they can share it with larger departments. Illuno users can post an off-duty detail, the department scheduler will get notified, officers will have equal access to take or pass the off-duty detail, the contractor’s management will have confidence that every detail is fully insured with an added policy, and a dashboard will allow for all parties to monitor for a work-life (fatigue mitigating balance). This allows for the reduction in freelancing, which causes significant untracked mental and physical strain. Safety and fatigue mitigation can happen in the presence of societal change and danger. Illuno can help.
(1) Civil Aeronautics Board, TWA—UAL Accident Investigation Report Grand Canyon Arizona (Washington, DC: Civil Aeronautics Board, 1957), http://lessonslearned.faa.gov/UAL718/CAB_accident_report.pdf
(2) John Violanti, Shifts, Extended Work Hours, and Fatigue: An Assessment of Health and Personal Risks for Police Officers (Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, 2016), 2, https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/237964.pdf. Note: 464 officers of the Buffalo Police Department participated in the study. The mortality group consisted of 1,035 deceased Buffalo police officers.
(3) Kenney and Vila, Tired Cops: The Prevalence and Potential Consequences of Police Fatigue.
(4) Papazoglou, Marans, Keesee, and Chopko, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, April 2020, https://leb.fbi.gov/articles/featured-articles/police-compassion-fatigue