The Blue Nights…

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 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.


About donutcountycop

I am a husband, father, and coach who began a career in law enforcement at a very small agency in 2003. After a deployment to Iraq with the USMC reserve in 2004, I changed agencies and moved to a “donut county” that borders a major US city in 2006. My current agency is composed of about 50 sworn officers, and is the busiest agency in our part of the donut. I am currently a mid-level supervisor who is in charge of a night shift, and serve the department in many other areas that include SWAT, FTO, and primary instruction. I’ve been around long enough to lose the illusion that I have every answer to every problem and now fully understand that my experiences have prepared me for little else than a life of wearing a badge and pistol.
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7 Responses to The Blue Nights…

  1. Rifleman III says:

    Steady 1st Platoon (00:00×08:00), is not that bad. In NYC we used to have rotating tours. Squads assigned to a chart, which indicated what squads would work which tours. Working “the Wheel” (it goes round and round), was 00:00×08:00, then RDOs (Regular Days Off), and return for 16:00×24:00. Again the RDOs, and return 08:00×16:00. Then repeat from the top. Oh, add an arrest, with time in the DA’s office for the deposition and you were in (back then), about two days, then pick up your tour. Other things like traffic court or criminal court, or grand jury. No accommodations. You simply followed your scheduled tour. It led to many divorces. You really were working fatigued. When the steady tours came out (as I was retiring), they were welcomed, because at least you got to have something stable, like sleep at home. The lousy part of 1st Platoon, was about 02:00 through 04:30, especially on weekends, because barrooms cut loose for the night and drunks always found the biggest trees to ram, or overpasses to hit, or some parked cars to bounce off of. Some, had their beer muscles up at time. Then, when everyone thinks the tour finally quieted down, Central calls with a domestic disturbance somewhere, and now you get to play referee, and watch out that you don’t get stabbed with a fork, or steak knife. Ahh… The Good Old Days. Not many could ever understand this stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad we don’t have to rotate like that, but apparently that was how things rolled here before my time too.

      I’ve tried to win the argument about early depositions trials, but it’s only worked a couple of times so far. No one really cares if we sleep I guess, so coffee becomes my best friend.

      And no one enjoys the call just before the relief shift comes on duty, but somehow it’s always a cluster that requires way more effort than it’s worth.

      I’d lose my mind on that kind of rotation though, guaranteed.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Rifleman III says:

    Reblogged this on .


  3. Growing up in the middle of nowhere and having a job went past midnight, I felt like a ninja driving at night. I could see and sense anything. City living for the last 16 years has ruined my night vision. I know the protocol with my high beams and don’t blind anyone but it takes me a couple days when I’m back home to get used to driving in the country. I haven’t taken out any wildlife since I was 17 and plowed a rabbit on Easter.


  4. Finding What Makes Me Happy says:

    Thank you for this post. My fiance is on Night Shift and sometimes people don’t understand how different or how much of an adjustment it is. His biggest issue with the Night Shift is that on his days off he doesn’t know whether to stay up with everyone during the day or if he should try to stick to his normal sleep pattern. Most of the time he ends up staying up anyways because everybody else is awake and wants to do things, but he ends up miserable his first night back to work.
    He doesn’t seem to terribly mind, but I can’t imagine it is very easy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a never ending debate whether to sleep and be human or short change sleep for more awake time on the first day off. Sometimes it can be rough to push through and not get much sleep, and I usually end up with a short temper on those days in spite of having the best of intentions.


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