Are Police Officers the New Face of Burnout?

After a photo of Chicago cops sleeping in their car went viral, people are calling on city officials to make changes.

Image by Jaromir Chalabala / EyeEm/ Getty Images

We often talk about the pervasive culture of burnout in medicine and corporate fields, but a new viral photo has sparked conversation about how the global epidemic affects law enforcement.

Over the weekend, a photo showing two Chicago police officers sleeping in their vehicle during a late-night shift was held up as proof that police departments need to make changes in overtime hours and overall culture.

Ja’Mal Green, the Chicago mayoral candidate who posted the photo on Facebook, called out Chicago Police Department executives for their recent departmental regulations. “We’re talking about deploying 400-to-600 officers. Taking away their days off,” Green told the Chicago Sun Times. “That’s not the answer. Officers are fatigued. We’ve got to start talking about the health of our police officers who are on the street, all day, every day on overtime in our neighborhoods,” he said. The deployment he talks about is a reference to the department’s additional weekend officers, who are being asked to work overtime hours in the city’s five most violent police districts. With local crime rates climbing, requests to take time off have been repeatedly denied by the department, he claims, and weekend work hours have increased.

While extra precautions may be necessary to combat the city’s rising violence rates, Chicago locals are skeptical that increasing police officers’ overtime hours will be of help. “The Chicago Police Department’s unrelenting overtime strategy for officers simply is not working,” said former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas. “[There is] no substitute for increasing police strength including the supervisory and detectives ranks,” he explained.

Some are suggesting the CPD follows in the footsteps of cities such as Dallas and Denver, who are rehiring retired police officers to help deal with the public safety crisis in their cities, while others say we must first address the mental health crisis that’s impacting law enforcement workers.

No matter what, it’s clear that we need to be discussing how burnout affects a wider range of professions.

If law enforcement officers are sleeping in their cars during their shifts to make up for the stress and exhaustion caused by out-of-control overtime hours, organizational changes must be made. And police department execs need to start connecting the dots between the well-being of their officers and the safety of their communities.

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