Calgary policeman recalls the toll of working tired on the job

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When Ted Davis joined the Calgary Police Service as a young man he didn’t know anything about the toll it would take on his sleep. He soon realized that he would be expected to continue making arrests despite the impact sleep deprivation would have on his judgment.

Davis, now 65, was a young 19-year-old when he joined the police service in 1970. He knew that he wanted to become a policeman since he was a child and considered it more of a “question of when rather than if.”

Even though he was a young man starting his career, Davis was already married and had a young son to think about. With the start of his career, he quickly learned that he would have to start thinking about sleep deprivation.

 His first two and a half months on the job had the most impact as Davis walked the beat. He worked a constant night shift patrolling the streets five nights a week until he began his recruit training. His experience was a baptism of fire for what would become a full career of shift work over the next 25 years.

When Davis made arrests, the paperwork needed to be completed or he couldn’t go home. This led to some late nights when he was walking the beat and bringing in impaired drivers, some of whom wouldn’t be cuffed until near the end of his shift.

Even if the paperwork was fully completed, Davis was expected to be in court at 9:30 a.m. the following morning — regardless if he had worked a full eight-hour shift mere hours before.
Davis says that’s almost exactly what happened one night when he had been called to the Cecil Hotel to break up a bar fight. Due to being in court all day, he was extremely tired. His judgment was dulled, so he walked into the hotel with his guard down.Officer-Davis-Medium-ShotTed Davis thinks sleep deprivation is less of a problem now with more officers being employed by the Calgary Police Service.

Photo by Nick Cescon

His exhaustion also meant he didn’t notice that one of the patrons had stood up, ready with a beer bottle to strike Davis on the back of the head. Luckily Davis’ partner at the time was fully rested and stopped the patron before any damage was done.

“Someone always has your back, you were covered, and so was there sleep deprivation? Absolutely, was it a serious problem? It probably was,” Davis says.

Davis adds that things have changed immensely since those days, with the addition of officer coaches, zone policing and a huge increase in the amount of officers that the Calgary Police Service employs — putting cops under less stress

But he says, “I can’t say that you can eliminate sleep deprivation from a job of this nature. It’s impossible. Is it better than it was when we joined? Oh yes, a lot.”

“I can’t see where sleep deprivation, to a certain extent, is not an aspect of work for police officers, firefighters, paramedics or anything just like these. It comes with the territory.”

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