Being a police officer is not for everyone. It’s one of the most challenging careers physically, mentally, and emotionally because police officers deal with complex and sensitive cases.
In addition, our work is particularly dynamic, and every day is different when working with the public.
Since law enforcement is a 24/7 job, police officers have non-traditional work hours and experience various shifts throughout their careers.
If you’re considering applying for a job in law enforcement, one of your first questions must be, “How many hours do police officers work?” Let’s find out.
- How Many Hours Do Police Officers Work?
- What’s the Ideal Schedule for Police Officers?
- What’s the Typical Schedule of a Police Officer?
- How Long Can an Officer Stay on a Shift?
- What Do Police Officers Do While on Shift?
- What Else Should You Know About a Policer Officer’s Working Hours?
- Are You Ready for Work?
How Many Hours Do Police Officers Work?
Police officers work full-time, typically in shortened work weeks.
For example, most patrol officers work 10 hours a day for four days or 12 hours a day for three days.
Police departments create schedules based on the size of their agency and the community they serve.
Since policing is a 24-hour job, law enforcement agencies require strategic thinking regarding employee scheduling.
The most common scheduling method applied to law enforcement people is the Pitman Schedule.
The rotation consists of a two-week cycle where each team or squad works two days on, two days off, or three days on and two days off.
Many police officers enjoy this shift schedule because they don’t work for more than three consecutive days and usually have a three-day off every other week.
Another advantage of the Pitman Schedule is it gives them more time off when switching between night and day shifts on a four-week rotation.
However, because of the shortened workweek, police officers must render 12 hours of work or more in a given day which can be exhausting.
Typical Shift Hours for Police Officers
Since police officers are the frontline responders to emergencies, their working hours can significantly vary.
Most officers work 10-hour shifts a day for four days a week, rotating between day, evening, and midnight shifts.
It is the most common schedule for patrol officers because it provides an overlap, ensuring patrol coverage 24/7.
Also, it gives everyone at least one day a week for training, administrative assignment, court appearances, and other tasks.
An extra day in the office allows officers to complete their work without compromising patrol coverage.
Another significant advantage of this shift schedule is that officers enjoy more or less 52 extra days off per year.
Some police agencies adopt a more conventional work schedule wherein officers clock in eight hours of work per day for five days.
However, unlike a traditional office job, our rest day won’t always fall on a weekend.
We are also most likely to endure night shifts, where they go to work before sundown and leave work late into the night.
What’s the Ideal Schedule for Police Officers?
Studies show that the 10-hour shift provides the best work-life balance for law enforcers.
In the said study, the 10-hour shift was linked to certain benefits, such as improved sleep quality, better job performance, and lower fatigue.
Meanwhile, officers working 12-hour shifts had lower levels of alertness and greater sleepiness at work.
In a long-term study by Harvard Medica School, researchers found that following a forward clock rotation, four days on and three days off, and an extended adjustment period during shift changes produce more positive outcomes for police officers.
Moreover, experts suggest limiting an officer’s shift to 14 hours daily with enough rest periods to reduce burnout and prevent work-related health issues.
Besides asking, “How many hours do police officers work?“, another question concerning a police officer’s schedule is, “Do they get Holidays off?”
Since law enforcement is a 24/7 job, many police officers will work during Holidays at least once in their careers.
For major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Labor Day, Memorial Day, and New Year’s Day, most agencies set several extra officers to have the day off in addition to those whose day off falls in the holiday.
Nevertheless, those who work on a holiday are entitled to double-time pay. Holiday time is accrued on an officer’s scheduled day off, work day, or any other absence.
Police officers are entitled to sick leaves equivalent to 10 hours per month or 15 days per year.
They can also use sick leave for an eligible family member, such as their spouse, child, or parent.
You might also ask, “Do police officers get time off?“
The answer is yes, they get time off, but its length depends on varying factors, including seniority.
Requesting time off may be more difficult for junior officers because, for most agencies, time off is accrued based on tenure.
Therefore, the longer an officer works at an agency, the more leave credits they will have.
In many states, police officers earn a certain number of hours of vacation time each month, up to two weeks per year, during their first five years in service.
They also accumulate four administrative days yearly, which they must use by July 1st.
They also have a summer vacation, usually from May to the end of September.
What’s the Typical Schedule of a Police Officer?
Police officer shifts are called “watches.” There’s usually a first, second, and third watch to cover 24 hours.
Following this, a typical police officer’s schedule would look like this:
- The first watch is from 4 am to 1 pm.
- The second watch is from 12 pm to 9 pm.
- The third watch is from 8 pm to 5 am.
With this schedule, a cop works four days in a row, and they enjoy two days off before starting another rotation.
Any extra work or hours will be paid or transferred to paid time off, similar to vacation leave.
Unfortunately, many departments experience staffing shortages and try to deal with this problem by implementing alternate schedules and overtime work.
Sometimes, officers work for more than 12 hours, up to 18 hours. They may be dispatched to a call after their shift and clock in extra hours.
How Long Can an Officer Stay on a Shift?
No state or federal policy explicitly states how long a law enforcer’s shift can be.
By tradition, this varies drastically among departments or agencies.
For example, a small agency with low staffing would rely on overtime to fill shift coverage.
In most cases, the specific department or agency sets overtime rules.
For non-union departments, the admin determines their officers’ work shifts and restrictions.
For unionized agencies, the contract between the agency and the officers determines the policies on schedule and overtime.
What Do Police Officers Do While on Shift?
The day-to-day tasks and responsibilities of police officers vary greatly, depending on seniority, training, and specific roles.
Below are the typical shift roles of police officers:
- Patrolling assigned areas
- Contacting dispatch
- Monitoring roadways
- Responding to burglaries and emergency call-outs
- Responding to 911 calls
- Writing reports on infractions or violations, accidents, arrests, and other occurrences
- Arresting and processing criminals
- Commanding emergency personnel during disasters and emergencies
- Conducting traffic and criminal investigations
- Testifying in court
- Conducting interviews
- Filing reports
At the start of their shift, officers usually gather for 30 minutes to check in, learn about their tasks or special assignments for the day, and get updates on current cases they are handling.
Next, they inspect their patrol cars, electronic equipment, and other safety elements.
When officers are ready to start patrol, they notify their dispatcher.
Throughout their day, police officers patrol their designated areas to deter crime, investigate crime scenes, and write reports for accidents, traffic violations, arrests, and more.
What Else Should You Know About a Policer Officer’s Working Hours?
If you’re an aspiring police officer, understanding how our schedule works is essential to prepare yourself better once you start reporting for duty.
Aside from our shifting schedule and regular work hours, you must know a few other things about police officers’ work hours.
First, departments usually allow officers to have at least a day off before going on a drastic shift change to let them adjust to the new schedule.
For example, if an officer currently works on an 8 am to 5 pm shift and is assigned to a 5 pm to 1 am shift, they will be allowed to rest for a day before shifting to the schedule.
Second, overtime is common among officers who make off-duty appearances and those who need to fill in to cover the absences of other officers.
They may also be required to render overtime to assist with crowd control during important events or to respond to emergencies.
Police officers also usually work weekends, holidays, and night shifts.
Lastly, administrative roles within police departments and agencies follow the standard workweek hours.
Are You Ready for Work?
Since policing is a 24-hour job, officers work rotating shifts to ensure peace and order around the clock.
We may also be required to work on weekends and holidays and extended periods or overtime.
A police officer may have a complicated work schedule, but it is a rewarding career for anyone who wants to serve their community.