Explorations in Policing, Faith and Life (With a hint of humor, product reviews, news and whatever catches my attention)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Working Midnights


I have worked the following shifts during my career in law enforcement, all with rotating days off: Midnights (Three Years 2300hrs-0700hrs), Afternoons (Three Years 1500hrs-2300hrs), Days (0700hrs-1500hrs), Tactical (1700hrs-0100hrs), rotating (Initially every 28 days then went to every 72 days) and administrative (0900hrs-1800hrs). My work hours are also affected by up to three court dates a month and overtime details that are in addition to the work hours I have been assigned. It is obvious that Police work is a twenty-four hour, seven day a week job but the affects of the schedule really cannot be understood properly unless you have experienced it. I have found that my wife is the most affected by my work hours, followed by me and finally by the children. I was fortunate, in that I was allowed to begin my career on a rotating schedule, so that my wife was able to get small doses of each shift and we were able to tailor our schedules to fit accordingly.
I was assigned to permanent midnights when my son was one week old. This soon became a huge source of martial discord. I would arrive at home around 0745hrs and get my son up and feed him, while my wife would be getting ready for work. I would stay up with him until about 1300hrs; put him down for his nap and go to sleep myself. I then would get up around 2200hrs, eat quickly, kiss my wife and go to work. The real problems began when I was on days off. I would have a choice; either get off of work at 0700hrs and stay up till we would both go to bed at night or catch a quick couple hour’s nap and stay on the schedule. I would usually be irritable because of the interruption in my sleep cycle. I would also be exhausted because I would loose at least eight hours of sleep a week due to having to convert to a day shift schedule on my days off. The fights then intensified when I would be working and my wife was on her days off. I would be sleeping and feel the presence of someone in the room with me. I would wake up, turn my head and look over to the side of the bed and see my wife’s eyes peering over the top of the covers. After I pulled myself off the floor from the initial shock, she would say, “Oh good your up, lets grab breakfast.” I would kindly (at first) remind my wife that even though it was two in the afternoon her actions affect on me would be the same as waking her at three in the morning. If I refused to get up she would call me “lazy” and if I did get up I would have to go to work that night with less than four hours of sleep. We finally resolved this issue because I started to call her every day at four in the morning in order for her to understand how it felt. However the only real solution to this problem occurred when I had gained enough seniority to go to the afternoon shift. The problem was my wife felt that she was abandoned and without a husband. She simply wanted to spend time with our child, and me, together as a family.
The hours that an Officer works have benefits and determents. I have spoken mainly of the problems of midnights but I have a few personal experiences of how it can aid a family as well as challenge it. One of the benefits while I was on midnights was my wife was able to maintain her full time employment without my son having to have any outside daycare. I was able to be at home when servicemen needed access and chores needed to be completed. If there was a family function or holiday party I could attend without any worry about my work conflict. Finally it allowed me full time interaction with my son that if I had worked a daytime shift I would not have been able to have.

Surviving Midnights

The biggest task that faces a Christian Police Officer concerning midnight shift work hours is not allowing the lack of sleep or sleep pattern interruptions cause you to mistreat your wife and family. Proverbs 21:23 states: 23If you keep your mouth shut, you will stay out of trouble. When I worked Midnights I found that if anything came up during the day that needed me to be present it always cut into the amount I would sleep. The result of these appointments being, a four-hour nap as substitute for a normal eight hours sleep. After a couple of weeks of sleep loss I would begin to subject my wife to my angry outbursts and complete irritation. She responded to my actions by trying to maximize the time we spent together at the cost of what little sleep I already had. This continued in a steady cycle until we sat down and came up with a plan to stop our constant bickering. Our plan worked for us and I would suggest you adopt this strategy so that you may be able to survive midnights.
First you must maintain your daily habits but just at different times. For example, I personally do not eat a big breakfast, if I even eat one at all. I grab a cup of coffee, a couple of vitamins and read the newspaper. What I found myself doing on the midnight shift was getting up at 2130hrs and sitting and eating dinner with my family. This made the first meal of my day the largest. The reaction my body made to this shift in my routine was to react to the start of my day as if it was really the end of my day. I would be drowsy and uncomfortable for the first couple of hour’s everyday. It was not until I treated the beginning of my day with my normal breakfast habits that I started to feel normal. I found that just because it is ten o’clock in the evening does not mean it is not your morning. I suggest you keep track what you do throughout the day and when you enter your midnight shift you maintain your schedule except with the times changed. This will allow your body to get the cues it normally receives so that it may properly adjust as the day progresses.
Second, you must exercise. I found that I could get to sleep faster and not be as sensitive to distractions that kept me from sleeping, if I ran a couple of miles before I went home from work. What tends to happen on this shift is when the fatigue starts to set in you start dropping all your good habits, which only makes things worse. You need to stay in shape to both stay healthy and stay sane.
Third, you must develop the power nap. If you are a little clever you can make up some of your lost hours of sleep. I became an expert at sleeping in doctor offices, grocery store parking lots and babysitting duties (Load up the playpen with one thousand toys and sleep on the floor). My shift commander had a “look the other way policy” while I was on midnights. He took our stats for the year and broke it down to the average day. The deal was as long as we accomplished in four hours what we normally would have done in an eight-hour day; he would not try to find us for the second half of the shift, as long as we answered our calls. I found that this unofficial policy resulted in our shift accomplishing departmental highs in activity with lows in disciplinary problems when compared with past midnight shifts. I know that this kept me sane. I during this time I developed my ability to soundly sleep in the front seat of the squad and yet if someone called my unit number over the radio I would be able to quickly respond. I know that by having this perk on midnights my judgment and Police work were much better than if I could not have taken this nap every so often.
I was sitting in my squad car with a shift-mate who was in his squad opposite but parallel to me. We were in a remote area of our town. We both set our in-car radar to go off should a car drive close to us. The signal tone would wake us up. We both proceeded to fall asleep in our reclined driver’s seats. At about 0530hrs a tapping sound on my driver’s side window woke me. I sat up so suddenly that I banged my head on the driver’s side interior of the car and threw a right elbow into the steering wheel. My shift-mate was my mirror image. I could see out of the corner of my eye that he was holding the side of his head and swearing up a storm. I then heard a little frightened sound outside my car. I turned and looked into the wide eyes of a little old lady holding a leash in her hand. I rolled down the window while holding my freshly bruised head and asked her, “What can I do for you?” She then said, “I saw the two of you way over there and when I got close I thought that you might be dead. I did not want to call 911 before I got close enough to see if there really was anything wrong.” I thanked her for checking on us and assured her we were fine. While I am a firm believer in the power nap, it can sneak up and bite you. Always beware of little old ladies.
The fourth survival technique I utilized on Midnights was to avoid running home and going right to sleep. The reason for adopting this stratagem is that going straight home from work to your bed goes against most of your life’s experience. With normal work schedules most people get up, have breakfast and go to work. At the end of the day you would come home, have dinner, stay up a couple of hours and then go to sleep. If you break this habit then at the end of the shift your body is cued to be winding down to go to sleep, so you are at your lowest point in alertness, mental capacity and problem solving ability. You however, still have a few hours left of work to go. It is not a safe practice. The best plan is to be at your lowest point at around 0930hrs at home and relatively safe.
We had (now ex) a Police Officer that was not pleasant to work with. He decided that it was a good idea to leave his assigned area at around 0530 hrs and try to find things you missed in your area. He then would notify the dispatchers of the problem in your beat hoping to make you look bad or better yet get you in trouble with your supervisors. We all were victims at one time or another of his actions. At the same time we also had a dayshift commander (since retired) that fit the stereotype of the hard-edged, crusty “Old School” Police Officer. In other words he hated everything that had come into Policing since 1980. He especially hated technology. He railed against cellular telephones, pagers, voicemail, e-mail and the internet at every conceivable opportunity. The midnight shift would come into the station at 0755hrs to clean out and drop off the squad cars for the dayshift Officers. This commander’s policy was that the midnight shift had to walk into roll-call so that he could verify that everyone was present and no one had slunk off to go home early. He would not end his roll call till 0800hrs, so we had to come in as quietly as possible and not talk for the last five minutes of the shift. If anyone interrupted this commander’s roll-call, he would stop, yell at you in front of everyone, hold his roll-call till 0805hrs or later (Dayshift was also angry with you now) and then pull you into his office and yell at you some more. Our difficult shift-mate had just recently bought a pager. He had been told many times to not set the pager to vibrate. I cannot even begin to explain the feeling of walking through a huge dark warehouse that had been broken into; attempting to locate a burglar(s) who may or may not be inside and that stupid pager would go off. Our shift then got together and we picked a different Officer each day to quickly go into the office and page him while the rest of us were at the day-shift roll-call. The pager would sound, the commander would bring his roll-call to a stop, glare at the Officer and then after roll-call was over, the commander would have a meeting with the Officer and his pager in the office. This went on for a couple of weeks until the commander told our difficult shift mate that from now on each time he heard the pager go off, he would issue the Officer a day off without pay. This Officer was highly intelligent and all he had to do was turn off his pager at the end of the shift. However, because he would go to sleep at around 0815hrs (He lived in town) he was so tired and out of it mentally, he could not execute this simple plan. I have based much of my midnight shift survival strategy based off of doing the opposite of this Officer. He is an example of how a fundamentally sound street Officer can have things come crashing down around him because he could not handle midnights.
The midnight shift is difficult for anyone with a wife or a family. But if you take these steps it should be a bit easier. A successful midnight plan will translate into a happier family since all of you are going through midnights together. Police Departments use the midnight shift as a way to weed out employees that are not totally committed to being Police Officers. If you truly wish to be a Police Officer you will find a way to get though the required five to six years on midnights. If you cannot handle these hours, then the administration believes that they easily can do without you. But if you can be successful on this schedule then you should see it as a step toward gaining acceptance from your peers and trust from your supervisors, so it is not wasted time. I would keep in mind that everyone who came before you made it through midnights, so you can also.

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