Letters to the Editor

Bad idea: 12-hour shifts for police | Federal Way letters

I was “shocked” to read in The Mirror on March 9 that there was consideration of moving police patrol officers to a 12-hour day. Let me explain. I recently retired from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) after 35 years as an FAA inspector (certification, enforcement and accident investigation).

When I retired, I was the manager of a 52-person FAA office that oversaw (regulated) Alaska Airlines. During my tenure with the FAA, I have been involved in the investigation of hundreds of aircraft accidents. In the major accidents, a “human factor group” is very much a part of the investigation. A part of this group’s responsibilities is to look at stress and fatigue with individuals involved.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has for a long time recognized that stress equates to fatigue. That’s why there are flight and duty times imposed on pilots.  Additionally, air traffic controllers are limited on the number of hours in a day they can work.  Even truck drivers have daily limits that have been established by the NTSB.

Now I’m making an assumption here, but I believe police officers face stress on a daily basis. If I am wrong, then let’s forget my message here. If I am correct, and they do face stress on a daily basis, I can’t understand how/why anyone could/would consider putting them on 12-hour shifts. I’m thinking I would not want to see an officer on the third day of a 12-hour shift: tired, fatigued, stressed and with a gun. Does not sound good to me. These folks are human and mistakes can happen when under fatigue. If the city has not, I would highly encourage it to bring in human factor experts to assist in this evaluation. I feel confident they will tell the city to scrap the idea.  Stress and fatigue are a very important part of the equation when you are talking about safety-related positions and job functions. My experience is that you may have 20 percent of the people that could handle it, but you would also have 20 percent that could not — the rest fall somewhere in the middle. If someone is hurt because a police officer was under stress/fatigue, it’s the taxpayers who would pay the bill.

As a side note, I’m having a hard time attempting to put 12 hours into a 40-hour work week. I come from the old school that the hours must neatly fit into 40 hours (five days x eight hours = 40, or four days x 10 hours = 40). I’m not sure how one makes it work with 12-hour shifts. I know The Mirror article said three days on and three days off, but that makes a 48-hour work week. Sounds like overtime to me. Anyway, it really does not matter, as I think the issue centers on safety and fatigue — a bad combination if not handled correctly.

Bob Hill, Federal Way

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