Shift length can have an impact on a police officer’s performance for a variety of reasons. Depending on the shift schedule, officers may be at risk of fatigue and burnout if the length of their shift is too long. On the other hand, scheduling for short shifts can be challenging for administrative teams due to law enforcement’s 24-hour scheduling needs.
Choosing the right police shift schedule for your agency is important. Below we will look at three different police officer shift schedules and discuss the pros and cons of each.
The Pitman schedule is a popular schedule because police officers receive every other weekend off. The Pitman schedule provides 24-hour coverage by rotating four squads and two 12-hour shifts.
This schedule consists of a two-week cycle where each team works two consecutive shifts, followed by two days off duty, works three consecutive shifts, followed by two days off duty, works two consecutive shifts, followed by three days off duty. Two squads are assigned day shifts and two squads are assigned night shifts.
An example of the Pitman schedule is:
Squad 1: DD-OO-DDD | OO-DD-OOO
Squad 2: NN-OO-NNN | OO-NN-OOO
Squad 3: OO-DD-OOO | NN-OO-NNN
Squad 4: OO-NN-OOO | DD-OO-DDD
Though this is a common shift schedule for police departments, there are pros and cons to it:
- Work days: No officer works more than three consecutive days.
- Personal time off: 3-day weekends, every other week.
- Cost: Reduction in staffing costs.
- Fatigue: 12-hour shifts can cause fatigue and sometimes burnout.
- Health: Rotating shifts can be hard on an officer’s health.
The 4/10 schedule is less common than the Pitman schedule but is still implemented by many police departments. In a 4/10 schedule, police departments are split into two platoons (essentially two police departments). A-Platoon and B-Platoon rotate schedules, so when A-Platoon is working, B-Platoon is off, and vice-versa.
Both platoons are subdivided into three sub-platoons. These three sub-platoons correspond to the three shifts: day shift, evening shift, and midnight shift.
With these 10-hour shifts, police officers work the same amount of hours as a person working 8-hour days and 40-hour weeks. However, they receive approximately 52 extra days off per year.
- Cost: Due to the fewer number of days officers are required to come to work, police agencies can save approximately 20% on travel costs.
- Time off: The actual number of days officers are scheduled to work is reduced.
- Coverage: Ability to overlap shifts.
- Training: Compressed work week schedule can ensure adequate time is available for training requirements.
- Fatigue: Fatigue due to shift length, particularly if overtime is required.
- Department division: Division of the department into two separate platoons. This division can have an effect on communication, culture, and morale.
5 on 2 off (8 hours)
The most common shift work schedule is the 8-hour schedule. This schedule has a police officer working 8-hour shifts, 5 days per week, with 2 days off.
For police departments, this shift schedule requires 3 squads to implement. One for the day shift, one for the mid-day shift, and one for the night shift.
- Shift length: Manageable hours to stay alert while on shift and reduce fatigue
- Time off: Officers have more personal time
- Overtime: Officers are available to pick up more overtime shifts
- Complex scheduling: Schedules can be complex administration to manage due to the shorter shifts
- Time off: Officers work more days per week
- Potential for burnout: Officers who work 8-hour shifts sometimes work more overtime
What shift length is best suited for police officers?
Police departments all over the country use a variety of shift schedules. Though many departments prefer longer shifts, research has shown that shift length has an impact on an officer’s performance. However, having short shifts can make 24-hour coverage complex for administrative teams.
The most common shift lengths for police officers are 8 hours, 10 hours, and 12 hours. This being said, some departments choose 8.5-hour and 11-hour shift lengths.
The best shift length for your department should be determined by understanding the needs of both your officers and the community you serve. Thought-out scheduling rotations can benefit your officers by creating well-rounded employees, reducing burnout, and combating police boredom.
After choosing the shift schedule that works best for your department, you can further benefit your officers by implementing police scheduling software. Automated scheduling software has the potential to improve job performance and mitigate risk and liabilities.