I’ve been a night-shift cop for most of my 13 years on the job. As is the case with a lot of unusual circumstances, I’ve adapted to most of the unique challenges presented by keeping vampire hours. If you are a fellow over-nighter, this will probably be like group therapy. If you happen to be a day-walker, here’s a guide to what you are missing while you’re sleeping the night away.
1. Feeling like a zombie is the new normal. Sleeping while the sun is up is never quite as restful as being in bed with the rest of the world. Daylight itself is disruptive at times, but since it happens when most humans are awake and being noisy day-sleep can be challenging at best. Most everything is scheduled to accommodate the day-walkers, so those of us on an alternate sleep schedule have to sacrifice beauty rest just to meet everyone else’s schedule.
2. It’s dark outside during most of my shift. I know it seems like a no-brainer, but darkness brings about special problems for a street cop. Finding addresses on calls for service is much easier in the daylight. So is avoiding yard bombs left by dogs, the spiderwebs that seem to appear everywhere, and other obstacles like clothes lines, holes, and drop offs that are easy to see in the light of day. Add in the visibility problems of seeing a suspect’s hands and waistband completely and you start to get a full picture of being a night shift cop.
3. The constant struggle with a fogged windshield is real. The Donut’s Midwestern climate means that my police car’s windshield will be foggy during most of the year. Fluctuations in the heat and humidity of late spring, summer, and early fall mean that I constantly have to sacrifice personal comfort for vision. The wintertime chill reverses the situation by freezing the outside while my car struggles to heat up the windshield. Finding a balance that works one night is no guarantee that it will work the next day.
4. Real food options don’t really exist. I usually try to eat meals at home. This allows me to actually get a break from the public eye, catch up with Mrs. Donut, and eat spit-free food. If we are too busy for me to stop at home and I finally get a chance to eat at about 02:00, I’m stuck with limited options for anything that actually resembles food. I refuse to order fast food at a drive-thru in a police car for multiple reasons, so that leaves me with cold sandwiches from a grocery store, roller food from a gas station, or worse.
5. My calendar is not like your calendar. When every scheduled work night spans two actual days things can get interesting. To keep my own version of sanity, I don’t consider it a new day until I wake up after I sleep. Of course I have to adjust the dates on paperwork generated after midnight on any given shift, but otherwise it remains the same day in my mind until after I break contact with the mattress.
6. My trip-time estimator is not properly calibrated. One of my favorite parts of working at night is that the daytime traffic is usually gone by the time I come to work. This means I can usually get from point A to point B fairly easily while I’m working, even without emergency lights. When I’m trying to plan out how to best carpe my diem during the daytime I struggle to account for the added drive time that suburban traffic requires.
7. I see the people most don’t know exist. There are other “normal” folks that are tasked with working while everyone else sleeps, but they don’t usually generate much work for us. Most of the Donut’s citizens have no idea how many homeless folks, addicts, drunks, and other derelicts appear while they sleep because they typically disappear from the public eye at sunrise.
8. I’ve developed the ability to function in strobe-mode. Emergency lights during the day don’t have much of an impact on vision. They do at night. It’s like living in a roller rink or live version of Metallica’s Enter Sandman music video minus the mullet. Every movement looks choppy. Things in the distance start to move, even signs that are cemented in place. After a while it becomes normal, an afterthought and consequence of being a cop at night.
9. I freaking hate high-beam headlights. Emergency lights wash away night vision, but adapting to them isn’t too hard given some time. When you are accustomed to night driving, high beam headlights aren’t real necessary. The day-walker who is out way past their typical time loves high beam headlights and waits until the very last minute to dim them-if they do so at all. When you are driving toward the high beam dependent day-walker who is replicating the sun’s rays at night, you end up with absolutely no vision for at least a few moments. Driving while waiting for the white spots disappear can be loads of fun.
10. It’s like a live episode of Suburban National Geographic at night. Raccoons, skunks, coyotes, bats, deer, and foxes seem to appear from nowhere at night in the Donut. Many of them don’t know they’re supposed to yield to emergency vehicles and end up as roadkill. Combine those with the plethora of flying insects that meet their fate on my bumper and windshield and you’ll begin to understand why my car looks the way it does in the daylight.
So what did I miss, my graveyard shift brothers and sisters? Make sure to add yours in the comments section so our sunglasses wearing comrades remember what it’s like.
Those of you that are used to a bi-weekly dose of the Donut on the Uniform Stories website won’t find any new material there. Praetorian Group, publisher of PoliceOne.com purchased the site about a month ago and has migrated some of the posts there. I’ve had some correspondence with them, but nothing has been finalized as of yet. In the meantime, please show Praetorian Group that there’s a good reason to run with Donut County Cop on their pages by sharing my posts with your friends to show your support.