What do you do on graveyard shift?

Dogwatch isn't for everyone, and getting through it can be tough


A question posted on Quora asked, “What do police officers on graveyard shifts do?” A number of cops gave their opinions on the topic, below. Check them out and add your thoughts in the comments.

Retired Officer and PoliceOne Columnist Tim Dees:

I spent seven years of my career on the graveyard shift, six of them consecutive.

"I never got sleepy or tired until dawn. I always saved my break for then."
"I never got sleepy or tired until dawn. I always saved my break for then."

My agency had a shift bid policy, where patrol officers bid for patrol shifts by seniority. I had plenty of seniority, well enough to bid for another shift, but I preferred the graveyard shift. There were fewer nuisance report calls for three-day-old burglaries, and the cops tended to be younger, more junior, and more enthusiastic than the cops on the other shifts.

Personally, I did a lot of DUI enforcement. I liked doing these and was more efficient at it than most of the other cops. If they made a DUI arrest, they were typically looking at 2–4 hours off of the street. I could get back out in under an hour, and would save my report writing for the end of watch.

We had a fair number of “in progress” calls. Domestic disturbances, fights, alarms, the occasional prowler or burglar. Now and then, we could get enough cops in the area fast enough to set a perimeter and catch the bad guy. Those were very satisfying incidents.

There would usually be a spate of alarms toward the end of watch. These would almost always be false alarms, tripped by employees opening buildings for the work day. If we got these several days in a row, it was usually an indication that somebody at the business thought it was funny to have the cops come running every time they unlocked the doors. One all-hands response acting on the assumption that anyone in the building was a burglar usually solved that problem.

Some nights were very busy, but most had stretches of no activity. This was when the active cops could do business checks and skulk around for people doing things they shouldn’t be doing.

One word of advice: never say anything like “Sure is quiet tonight.” To do so is to taunt God, and God will respond with vengeance.

Former Police Commander Rick Bruno:

That depends on the officer. Some will make a lot of traffic stops, check closed businesses for unlocked doors, do some directed patrolling of areas under current crime statistic watches, stop in at all-night businesses to check on the well being of the staff, or play “what if?” tactical mind games to see how they would respond.

By choice, I worked a good portion of my career during those hours. I made some of my best arrests then.

Some will sleep. If that happens bring firecrackers next time.

William Formby:

Back in my day we spent a lot of time playing catch the burglar. I had an old sergeant whose philosophy was for us to disappear from the streets after making our initial business runs. His theory was that the bad guys know you are out there so make them guess where you are. I spent a lot of nights riding or sitting in alleys. The toughest part about midnight shift for me was dawn. I never got sleepy or tired until dawn. I always saved my break for then.

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