This study investigated the impact of work shift and fatigue on officers’ responses during simulated interactions with citizens.
Using a quasi-experimental design, participants (n = 50) responded to multiple branching scenarios in a laboratory-housed use-of-force simulator. Each scenario had the potential to end peaceably or turn deadly, depending on how the officers responded. Officers who worked across four patrol shifts were tested on two occasions—after five consecutive shifts and again 72 h after completing their last shift.
Day-shift officers were less fatigued (measured using the Psychomotor Vigilance Test) than night-shift officers (f = 44.411; df = 1, 90; p < 0.001). Furthermore, officers were more fatigued when they were tested at the end of their work week than after 72 h off-duty (f = 12.030; df = 1, 90; p < 0.001). In the simulator, officers from the day shift were more likely to respond in ways that engineered cooperative outcomes (f = 4.81; df = 3, 549; p < 0.01).
These findings offer insight into how shift work and fatigue influence police–citizen interactions. Implications for de-escalation and procedural justice in policing are discussed.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Sixty scenarios were filmed, six of each encounter type. Individuals in the scenarios were White, Black, and Hispanic, and were all male.
For example, by saying “If I ever see anything suspicious going on around here I’ll let you guys know, I know you have a tough job and I appreciate everything you do”.
Less than lethal force options such as Taser, pepper spray, baton, or hands-on tactics were not employed in the current study.
Note that rapid-fire “Calm down! Calm down! Calm down!” did not count as trying to calm the individual. A genuine empathetic attempt to calm the individual (e.g., “It’s ok, you are not in trouble, you do not need to worry”) was required.
Timing to initiate a scenario branch or outcome was either immediately upon evidence of the participant satisfying the logic model or within 5 s of the branching point if the participant did not satisfy the logic model.
The holsters used in the experiment were the same type as those used by the agency from which participants were recruited, to ensure familiarity with the holster.
Shift assignment was determined by the department and not manipulated by the researchers.
Officer race and gender were not included as control variables due to the limited diversity of the sample.
The standard deviations reported appear large in comparison to the difference in means. This is due to the strong individual differences between subjects—the use of MLM controls for these differences.
This particular agency uses the VirTra simulator in their academy.
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (2004). Survey of U.S. and Canadian police officers about the public’s drowsy driving behavior. http://www.aaafoundation.org/pdf/PoliceDD.pdf. Accessed 1 July 2014.
Amendola, K. L., Weisburd, D., Hamilton, E. E., Jones, G., & Slipka, M. (2011). An experimental study of compressed work schedules in policing: Advantages and disadvantages of various shift lengths. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 7(4), 407–442.
Belenky, G., Balkin, T. J., Redmond, D. P., Sing, H. C., Thomas, M. L., Thorne, D. R., & Wesensten, N. J. (1998). Sustaining performance during continuous operations: The U.S. Army’s sleep management system. In L. Hartley (Ed.), Managing fatigue in transportation (pp. 77–85). Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Bittner, E. (1970). The functions of police in modern society. Rockville, MD: National Institute of Mental Health.
Bittner, E. (1980). The functions of the police in modern society. Cambridge, MA: Oelgeschlager, Gunn & Hain.
Bittner, E. (1990). Aspects of police work. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.
Chen, G. X., Fang, Y., Guo, F., & Hanowski, R. J. (2016). The influence of daily sleep patterns of commercial truck drivers on driving performance. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 91, 55–63.
Dement, W. C., & Vaughn, C. (1999). The promise of sleep. New York: Delacorte Press.
Fyfe, J. J. (1980). Geographic Correlates of Police Shooting: a Microanalysis. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 17(1), 101–113.
James, S. M., & Vila, B. (2015). Police drowsy driving: Predicting fatigue-related performance decay. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 38(3), 517–538.
James, L., Vila, B., & Daratha, K. (2013). The influence of suspect race and ethnicity on decisions to shoot in a deadly force judgment and decision-making simulator. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 9(2), 189–212.
James, L., Klinger, D., & Vila, B. (2014). Racial and ethnic bias in decisions to shoot seen through a stronger lens: Experimental results from high-fidelity laboratory simulations. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 10(3), 323–340.
James, L., James, S. M., & Vila, B. J. (2016). The reverse racism effect: Are cops more hesitant to shoot black suspects? Criminology & Public Policy, 15(2), 457–479
James, L., James, S., & Vila, B. (2017). Testing the impact of citizen characteristics and demeanor on police officer behavior in potentially violent encounters. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, (forthcoming).
Lim, J., & Dinges, D. F. (2008). Sleep deprivation and vigilant attention. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1129(1), 305–322.
Rajaratnam, S. M., Barger, L. K., Lockley, S. W., Shea, S. A., Wang, W., Landrigan, C. P., O’Brien, C. S., Qadri, S., Sullivan, J. P., Cade, B. E., Epstein, L. J., White, D. P., & Czeisler, C. A. (2011). Sleep disorders, health, and safety in police officers. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 306(23), 2567–2578.
Satterfield, B. C., & Van Dongen, H. P. (2013). Occupational fatigue, underlying sleep and circadian mechanisms, and approaches to fatigue risk management. Fatigue: Biomedicine, Health & Behavior, 1(3), 118–136. doi:10.1080/21641846.2013.798923.
Sunshine, J., & Tyler, T. R. (2003). The role of procedural justice and legitimacy in shaping public support for policing. Law & Society Review, 37(3), 513–548.
Terrill, W. (2016). Deadly force: To shoot or not to shoot. Criminology & Public Policy, 15(2), 491–496.
Vila, B. (2000). Tired cops: The importance of managing police fatigue. Washington, DC: Police Executive Research Forum.
Vila, B. (2010). Chapter 7: The effects of officer fatigue on accountability and the exercise of police discretion. In C. McCoy (Ed.), Holding police accountable. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press.
Vila, B. J., James, S. M., & James, L. (2016) Novel process for developing metrics that measure what police do. Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) proceedings, Orlando, Florida, November/December 2016.
Waggoner, L. B., Grant, D. A., Van Dongen, H. P., Belenky, G., & Vila, B. (2012). A combined field and laboratory design for assessing the impact of night shift work on police officer operational performance. Sleep, 35(11), 1575–1577. doi:10.5665/sleep.2214.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
James, L., James, S. & Vila, B. The impact of work shift and fatigue on police officer response in simulated interactions with citizens. J Exp Criminol 14, 111–120 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11292-017-9294-2
- Shift work
- Procedural justice