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The impact of work shift and fatigue on police officer response in simulated interactions with citizens



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.

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  1. Sixty scenarios were filmed, six of each encounter type. Individuals in the scenarios were White, Black, and Hispanic, and were all male.

  2. 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”.

  3. Less than lethal force options such as Taser, pepper spray, baton, or hands-on tactics were not employed in the current study.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Shift assignment was determined by the department and not manipulated by the researchers.

  8. Officer race and gender were not included as control variables due to the limited diversity of the sample.

  9. 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.

  10. This particular agency uses the VirTra simulator in their academy.


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Correspondence to Lois James.

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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).

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  • Police
  • Shift work
  • Fatigue
  • De-escalation
  • Procedural justice