Military and Police

The Difference Between Night and Day Shift is Like Comparing Big Eyed Lemurs to Carpenter Ants

“After spending a year and a half working from 6:15 PM to 6:30 AM, I’ve been transitioned back to ‘days’ for a rotation.  It’s been…challenging.”

There wages a battle over shift preference in every police department across the country.  Departments with a 12-hour rotation have two options: days or nights.  Whether you call it “midnights”, “the red-eye”, “the graveyard shift”, “morning watch”, or simply “nights” – that’s what I’m into.  Most senior guys always choose days and most young guns always get “stuck” with nights.  This makes guys like me — someone with seven years of experience, yet still wanting to work in the dark – the minority.  Call me crazy, but I would stay on nights permanently if I could.

After spending a year and a half working from 6:15 PM to 6:30 AM, I’ve been transitioned back to “days” for a rotation.  It’s been…challenging.  My schedule has done a full 180 and I’ve got six months of waking up at 5:00 AM to be in at 6:15 AM.  After fighting traffic, I’ll get back home around 7:30 PM on an average night – leaving just enough time to make sure my forgetful kid didn’t leave her homework at school and my crazy kid didn’t burn the house down before it’s time to put them both to bed.

Currently, I’m one month in and still feeling like a vampire out of his coffin every day around 2 PM.  It’s like hitting a brick wall and it makes me more understanding of countries like Spain who enjoy their little siestas.

You’d expect more of this behavior in the twilight setting that night watch presents, but days have a cruel way of playing mind games.  Dispatch throws everything but the kitchen sink at you during the two times of the day when you’re at your laziest, or should I say, “most allergic to paperwork”.  The first is as soon as you get in service after morning roll call. The second is at the end of shift, when you’re sitting on the edge of your seat praying the dispatch gods don’t give you a late call that stands in your way of getting to go home on time.  Show mercy on me, oh lord of the call center!

To be more specific, cleaning up the flood of vehicle break-ins that the night crew narrowly miss because of the wave of victims waking up to report a smashed window is the bane of your existence.  You cancel that breakfast order and walk back to your car shaking your fist at the sky.  Throw in a few severely drunk drivers asleep in the center lane and you get the point.  Later on, traffic accidents occurring as people rush to commute home after a long day of their own work – and the subsequent domestic violence disputes that occur when they find their spouse in bed with the milkman or milk lady upon their arrival. This is what usually keeps you on the clock past your shift.

Oh, and I’d be remiss if I left out those amongst us who are occupationally challenged.  That free-spirited bunch who wakes up after noon and usually hits the belligerent stage of their day to day tango with drugs and alcohol right during that sweet spot before you get to turn off your handheld radio and hit the road to go home. You’ve got to love those guys.

While every night shift hits that twilight-hour lull when the roads are clear of cars and the only people awake are lurking somewhere out of view of a would-be 911 caller, the frivolous calls are more abundant during the day – and the traffic accidents keep rolling in all shift long.  Before you even begin writing the three-vehicle traffic accident report you just gathered information on, you’re dispatched to a fraud call at the credit union that’s perpetually being defrauded.  Nine times out of ten, the perp is gone before you can make your way through the traffic – so it’s just another sad story to write in the form of a case number that will probably never be read by anyone outside of the supervisor signing off on it for insurance purposes.  “How many reports down are you?” becomes a familiar phrase used by you and your buddies as you’re always playing catch up on your paperwork.  We call it being “stacked”.

Despite the constant traffic snarling, your call-to-call commute, the largely mundane nature of the heavy call volume you deal with (bored housewife or old retired guy calling in another parking violation), and the ominous presence of the command staff looking to put paper on the officer who has gone one too many days without a car wash or a trimming of their facial hair – a lot of guys and gals actually prefer to work day watch.  It’s easier on their families – less of a strain on their marital life.  After all, there’s this funny thing about wives. They want their man home at night.  Mine’s no different, but I’m not one of those day watch guys.

With a bit of time-management and sleep deprivation, I’m actually more involved in my kids’ lives while working the night rotation.  I can pick them up from school and do homework before leaving for work at 5:30pm.  Traffic’s a breeze on the way home and I’m in bed by ten after seven.  Give me five hours of sleep and I can even get in a workout and run an errand or two before it’s time to get the kids.

Meanwhile, I’m awake making money and playing Batman while they’re passed out. Any hour between 9 PM and 3 PM is what I call “garbage time”.  The kids don’t need me when they’re sound asleep or in school. They need me when they’re home and wide awake.  You learn to make the most out of your day and get by on less hours of sleep when you embrace being a creature of the night – and did I mention you save thousands on childcare?  Of course, a highly understanding and relatively low-maintenance spouse is a must in order for this lifestyle to work.

It’s not just the home life that comes with living an alternative existence as a vampire-cop that I find more appealing.  If you’re a night owl, you work better in the dark. I’m a form of lemur, slowly but stealthily moving about while everyone else is sleeping.  When those big lemur eyes lock onto something, it gets my full and undivided attention.

In contrast to days, there’s no rush to get every call over with and move onto the next inevitable one that’s pending.  You can move at your own pace and initiate the kind of work you prefer.  If something needs to be investigated further, you roll with it instead of just writing the initial report and tossing it into the pool of cases some overworked investigator is already drowning in. If night cops are lemurs, then the day watch guys are an army of carpenter ants endlessly marching to the next call.

On a more serious note, there are those occasions where the more disturbing experiences this job has to offer are thrown at you.  In these cases, I find the graveyard schedule more therapeutic.  For men, it’s easier to just go home and be alone after seeing a child that’s been molested. If I’m on day shift, I have to face my own kids and pretend I’m not rattled when I look into their eyes.  It makes more sense to go straight to an empty bed after seeing a body torn to pieces or burned beyond recognition than it does to burden someone (my wife) with all of the morbid details.  I find that I usually feel better about these kinds of things after I get some sleep and have a few hours to work them out alone, before going back to playing father and husband.

The day versus night debate will wage on forever, and with the changing circumstances officers personally find themselves in, their shift preferences will change as well.  With that being said, I find myself more at home in the middle of the night.  It’s better — as long as you’re not afraid of the dark.

T.B. Lefever

T.B. Lefever is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and active police officer in the Metro-Atlanta area. Throughout his career, Lefever has served as a SWAT Hostage Negotiator, a member of the Crime Suppression Unit, a School Resource Officer, and a Uniformed Patrol Officer. T.B. is also a certified Field Training Officer. He has a BA in Criminal Justice and Sociology from Rutgers University. Follow T.B. on Twitter @tblefever.

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