Choosing the Right Shift Length for Police

Due to the nature of police work, rotating schedules are not going away anytime soon. What most people don’t realize is that the actual length of the shift being rotated is important.

Choosing the right shift length can improve employee morale, increase performance, and reduce overtime… but choosing the wrong one can cause fatigue, reduce reaction time and result in your officers getting less sleep. As you can see, it’s a big decision that has a lot of effects, and you should know the pros and cons of the various shift lengths.

A study conducted by the Police Foundation out of Washington, D.C. looked into the effects of agencies moving towards longer shifts. Their hope was to determine whether the movement towards 10 or 12 hour law enforcement shifts from 8 hour ones (up over 11% between 2005-2009) would provide agencies with benefits such as reduced overtime hours, sick leave and a better quality of life.

Two agencies were examined in Detroit, MI and Arlington, TX, during which 300 non-supervisory officers were randomly scheduled for 8, 10 or 12 hour shifts over 6 months.

The Results of The Shift Length Study

Impact on Sleep

Officers working 10-hour shifts reported that they were getting over 30 minutes more sleep per night compared to those officers working 8-hour shifts and 12-hour shifts.

Overtime Hours

Overtime was dramatically reduced when officers switched to a 10-hour shift, with the amount of overtime worked dropping to 20% of previous levels.

Officers working 12-hour shifts also reduced their overtime hours, not quite as much, but still cutting them down to 30% of previous levels.


Performance was ranked by looking at reaction time, motor abilities, fatigue and alertness. Not surprisingly, performance is highest in 8-hour shifts. Moving up to a 10-hour shift, there was a slight decrease in performance, but it was fairly minimal. Once we extend that shift to 12-hours however, officers reported increased fatigue and reduced alertness during their shifts.

Quality of Life

Quality of life was based on satisfaction, commitment and involvement levels. Those officers working 10-hour shifts had an improved quality of life compared to those working 8 & 12-hour shifts.


So does that mean 10-hour shifts are the best?

Well not so fast, there are other considerations. Although 10 hour shifts tend to be the most popular with officers, they do have their problems. Since 10 does not go into 24 evenly, it means that you have to have some overlapping shifts throughout the day. Currently at Tigard PD the 10-hour shifts are set up like this:

  • Day Shift – 08:00-18:00
  • Swing Shift – 14:00-24:00
  • Night Shift – 22:00-08:00

You can see that the overlap is not an even 2 hours for each shift, that’s because the overlap is based on calls-for-service spikes, like rush hour and late at night.

This overlap that comes with 10-hour shifts is great for the officers they get more support, but it requires double the equipment! During each overlap period, you have to be able to equip all of your on-duty officers with squad cars, radios, etc. When there is no overlap, all of this extra equipment sits idle. To support a 10-hour shift pattern the agency ends up having to buy twice as much equipment, and importantly, maintain twice as much equipment as well.

This is the main reason that management prefers 8, or 12-hour shifts as they only require one set of equipment.

Which Shift Length is Right for My Agency?

Well as you can see they all have their own pros and cons, and it depends on whether you’re looking at it from an officer or a management perspective. 8-hour shifts are the simplest, but they can result in a lot of overtime. 10-hour shifts are the best for officers, but require a lot of extra expenses to the department in equipment costs. 12-hour shifts solve the double equipment problem, and reduce overtime, but at the cost of employee performance. With this information, you’ll have to decide which is the best shift length for your department.

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