There, but for the grace of God, go I
Terrible news and condolences to the families and colleagues of four officers killed in Northern Ireland. They were reportably going to the aid of an officer, when the police vehicle crashed. It's a tragedy and the timing just before Christmas makes it even worse. Details of the call have not been made public yet, but most police drivers will put on that extra 10% effort to an urgent assistance.
These were on duty police accident deaths and they join a long list of officers killed in accidents, many of which occurred either coming in or going home from duty. Research has shown that 17 Police Officers have been killed in England and Wales since 2003 coming home from night duty.
West Midlands police have come up with a scheme to offer a taxi home to officers. This at least recognises there is a problem. I know myself that after a 12 hour night duty it's an effort to drive home sometimes. Some officers have quite a journey in comparison with me, so I don't think the taxi option is viable where I am.
I believe the research number of 17 is perhaps too low. We have discussed this where I work and I've learnt of an officer who nodded off and found himself in the central reservation. He was injured in the collision and off work for a while. Another told me he actually fell asleep on his motorbike en route home, luckily he had stopped for the red light before drifting off. I know of another who fell asleep driving his police car in a High Street in the early hours crashing it.
Most police officers will know of colleagues killed in accidents this way. Of course there is no definite way of knowing if sleep deprivation plays a part. There is a tendency for core shift to go for a 12 hour pattern. It cuts down on the travel days, supposedly with more days off, so is popular with those living excessive distances from their place of work. The bosses like it too because it saves them thousands in overtime payments. When you're busy it can sometimes be a long time to wait for the Cavalry to arrive in the form of an incoming shift.
At my place I remember when it came in. There were promises that drivers would only have to drive for half a shift and somebody else would drive the second half. Empty promises that they could never keep to. It lasted a short time and only went because the management wanted something else instead that suited their needs. They also started to cancel officer's days off with notice on a regular basis. We now work a mix of shift times, including the 12 hour night.
I've just turned down a move to an unpopular busy Division, but only because of the shift pattern. It's 2 days on 7am - 7pm 2 nights 7pm - 7am and four days off. Your first day off is spent sleeping. Not good for me so I'll have to look elsewhere.
So forgive that officer having a quick power nap if you see them parked up in an industrial site in the early hours. I'm not saying it's right - but the chances are your colleagues will catch you and do your wiper blades. He might need that moment before driving at speed to an emergency, and it might get him there more safely.