Burning the Candle at Both Ends

I was browsing through LinkedIn when I saw a photo of a young Park Forest police officer asleep in an overstuffed chair in a police station breakroom. I say young only because he has all his hair and it’s brown, the way mine used to be many years ago when I was a young officer. The department chief, Christopher Mannino, had taken the photo and pointed out this officer had worked from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Furthermore, he had court at 9 a.m. Therefore, rather than race home, turn around and go back he decided the best thing to do would be to grab a nap in the breakroom. He would spend the day in court only to return to work that evening again at 6 p.m. for another 12-hour tour of duty.

Meanwhile, this officer would try to catch some sleep at home after court and spend time with his wife and toddler. If he is an active officer he might repeat this several times a week. Days off are no respite since many young officers find a second job to help make ends meet. I know, I worked security somewhere most of my career.

I was very happy to see the chief took pride in this young officer and understood the strain his people are under. It gives me hope for both that department and for its people.

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Unnamed officer catching a quick nap after working all night and due in court mid-morning. (Photo courtesy Christopher Mannino)

This isn’t an uncommon situation. I worked several years in a police district that shared the building with two courtrooms. It wasn’t rare to have officers asleep in their cars outside in the parking lot before the court call.

I remember at one time of my life I was working days on the tact team. I’d leave at the end of the day and go to my side security job until midnight. From there I’d go park in front of a business that had been having trouble with someone smashing their front window. For a couple months they hired off-duty POs to guard the place at night. After that, I went home, showered, changed clothes, took my sons to school and then right back to the district to do it all over again. You can’t do that for long before you collapse. Yeah, I slept in my van while parked in front of the business. Thankfully, no one tried to break the window while I was there.

I wasn’t alone. All the security where I worked were off-duty police officers. When we remodeled our kitchen, it was a union job. FOP was the union. When we needed a plumber, it was an off-duty officer. Same with an electrician.

I remember talking with one of my sons about what he wanted to be when he grew up. He was about eight at the time. Of course, he said police officer. That’s all he knew. But he said for his second job he wanted to be a chef. He thought everyone had two jobs. He thought it was normal.

Those of you who work like this can relate to shopping for a new car and thinking, I can get comfortable and sleep in that one. I know you did. I bought two vehicles on that.
We forget how hard this is for a person. This kind of fatigue builds up and a good long sleep on a day off is not enough. Your resistance to colds and the flu diminishes. While you might have medical days on the police department you can’t take them, or you can’t do the side work that you need. This means that you go to work with a pocket of cold pills and ibuprofen. You leave a trail of Kleenex behind you. It isn’t until a stop in at the E/R and the nurses tell you to go home and get in bed that you finally listen and hit the medical.

Not seeing your family wears on the officer and the loved ones. I saw very few of my son’s little league games because I worked evenings. Fortunately, I was able to coach their basketball teams since they were on Saturday morning.

After a while your kids get used to you not being there, and so does your wife. It’s not much of a surprise when there is a divorce. Yet some families make it through all this. I don’t know how but they do. I’m divorced, and while it wasn’t the sole issue, it did contribute to the problem.

So, bosses look at your people. If they’re burning the candle at both ends, do what you can to help them. Take pride in the determination and drive they exhibit. Don’t let them burn out. If they’re happy and healthy, your job will be easier. In the military the rule is leaders eat after the troops. It means you take care of your people before anything else.

Young Park Forest police officer be careful. We are all proud of you. Perhaps we remember back fondly to when that was us. Pay heed and don’t let it get you. If you burn it at both ends you end up with nothing but burnt fingers.

Remember your comments below are always welcome.

Thank you, and as my old Watch Commander always said, “Run Low and Zig Zag.”

– Bob Weisskopf

www.bobweisskopf.com