Thoughts on Father’s Day for Cops

As we observe Father’s Day, I want to reflect on the importance of quality parenting, with a focus on our law enforcement fathers. I started my police career in 1984 in Indianapolis, and had the honor of working alongside five generations of officers: the greatest generation, baby boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. As founder of the Development and Wellness program at Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, I was able to interact with fathers from each generation, learn of their family experiences, and understand how important their own fathers and other male role models were to their overall happiness and development.

While we tend to think each generation had a distinct family and parenting experience unique to each era, I discovered that being a “good” father usually boils down to a few simple choices men make based on learned observation. To become a good father, modeling is paramount, and it is helpful to see both good fathers and not-so-good fathers in action to understand the extremes and settle on the best traits. From my childhood to my time with the department, I saw fathers who had no relationship with their children, fathers who doted on their kids, and fathers who were somewhere in the middle. All parenting experience is helpful to observe, as we adopt the best behaviors, discard other behaviors, and evolve into the father we will become based on those traits.

Through working with officers, I found that observation of random fathers or male role models throughout the officers’ lives was an equal or sometimes greater influence on father behavior than the officers’ relationships, or lack of, with their own fathers. I noticed some officers who experienced not-so-good parenting became not-so-good parents, while others learned from their poor experience, vowed not to make the same mistakes, and became great parents. I saw divorced fathers who were “better” fathers than fathers who lived in an unbroken home and saw their kids every day, while some divorced or separated Dads wanted no relationship with their kids.

If observing parenting traits is as influential as actual experience, what are the traits fathers should model? What separated good fathers from the not-so-good fathers usually came down to the fathers’ characters and their practice of selfless versus selfish behavior. I found that good fathers usually put family needs before their own. They invested in their families and in their children’s futures.  They displayed respect for their spouses or partners. They understood the need to be present and supportive, but also the need to balance that support with accountability and with the goal of raising good citizens in a loving environment.

Good fathers understand that children tend to be emotional and will act like kids, not little adults. Good fathers set their own emotions aside and act rationally. They practice patience and don’t fly off the handle. Good fathers listen, ask uncomfortable but important questions, and don’t preach. They understand children are sponges and will model what they see– so good fathers try and set good examples. Good fathers understand they need to be part of their children’s lives. They accomplish this by managing their schedules and by being home, and more importantly, being engaged when home. Good fathers plan, but understand those plans sometimes change, remembering the famous John Lennon lyric, “life happens when you are making other plans.” Sometimes plans don’t work out–even with the best of intentions–so good fathers remain calm and flexible.

Sadly, many of the officers who poured themselves into police work in an unhealthy and over-invested way failed to recognize their limitations and show flexibility in their work. This same problem can render the same officers well short of the kind of parents they want to be at home. No amount of planning, preparation, or effort will guarantee that things won’t go sideways in the professional or personal life of a cop. The real question is: how do you respond to the uncertainty and unexpected developments? Do you muster up resolve and flexibility and perspective, or do you become emotional and inevitably make things worse?

I coached little league when my kids were young and had an officer’s kid on my team. The officer would rarely show up to his son’s games and when he did, he was in uniform and working. I noticed that he worked a lot. As we talked, he told me his story. He and his wife started dating in high school and married soon after. Their ideas about parenting were similar and their plan was to have a large family (both were from large families.) Their goal was for Mom to stay home and raise the kids while the officer worked as much as he could, so they could afford to keep Mom home. The officer worked hard, had a solid reputation and got assigned to a special task force where he could work unlimited OT.

All that OT afforded them a big house in a nice neighborhood with a large backyard, two SUVs in the driveway, and a week at the beach each summer. Within a decade of starting their lives together, they were divorced, and Mom and the kids moved in with her parents. The verdict: Irrespective of their “plans,” Dad needed to balance time at work with time at home.

I had another officer who complained about his 18-year-old daughter wanting to go to college, and how he refused to help because when he was her age his parents told him he was an adult and they kicked him out of the house. He joined the military and was proud of how he made his own way and wanted his daughter to experience similar maturation and growth.  When I spoke to his daughter, she told me she loved her dad, but they didn’t really have any type of relationship. She confided that she thought he loved his motorcycles more than his kids. The officer acknowledged he had no real relationship with his parents, and he was never comfortable parenting his daughter, and as time went on, the gap between them just grew bigger and harder to navigate. He admitted his motorcycles were an excuse and an escape. He confided that he wished they had a better relationship.

I arranged for them to meet with me as an intermediary. At this meeting, the officer’s daughter provided a reasonable plan for continuing her education in a much sought-after degree program at a local university, tuition to be supplemented by a partial scholarship which would renew based on her grades. I did not take a side but made a few “gentle” suggestions. I got the officer to sit quietly while his daughter explained what her contribution would be and what she hoped her father might be able to contribute. He talked about his relationship with his parents and how that influenced his relationship with his daughter. He eventually agreed to help, and we set up a state 529 college savings plan (which offered a generous 20% state tax credit) which would cover his contribution. He even sold one of his motorcycles to help his daughter buy a used car for school. Their relationship improved tremendously from that point forward, and she later graduated with honors, got a great job, and Dad felt a part of her success story. The verdict: Dad was home but needed to be more engaged at home.

Diogenes (400 BC) was a Greek philosopher and a founder of the Cynic movement. He is credited with what we know today to be the saying, “actions speak louder than words.” Officers routinely tell me their kids are their greatest joys, or the most important things in their lives, and that they would do anything for them. What would Diogenes say about such statements? Do we really mean what we say, or do our actions belie our words?

Officers tell me their families are more important than work, yet when pushed, will admit they spend more time at work, or are still focused on work–even when they are home. Many officers have a work phone and a personal phone, and if honest would admit they spend more time using their work phone. Which phone do you truly believe is more important to your life? Be honest.

If your kids are the most important thing in your life, how do you show it?

I have a slide in my training which always earns a laugh. It is a picture of a gravestone with the chiseled words “Here lies John Doe who wished he could have worked more.” It is funny because no one dies wishing they had worked more, but some officers in class later admit they fear that they do work too much. When I started my career in the 1980s (before the Fair Labor Standards Act and overtime at time and a half) we would have done anything to work OT and earn more money. And now, with many agencies being short-handed, the opposite is the case, with some agencies now requiring mandatory OT. This makes achieving the work-life balance more challenging. How are you managing your schedule? Are you someone who works too much OT? Do you defend working off-duty and extra-duty by claiming you are doing it for your family?  If you find you are only going home to change uniforms, your work-life balance needs maintenance.

When he returned from the moon Apollo 11, Astronaut Buzz Aldrin wrote about his experience. In the book “Return to Earth”, Aldrin discussed being an absentee father during the space race of the 1960’s (during which the goal was to put an American on the moon before the end of the decade.) Aldrin wrote about working long hours, multiple weeks at a time at Cape Canaveral, and flying home to Houston for short visits with his wife and kids. He spoke about trying to condense a month’s worth of parenting into a few short days or hours– never successfully, and then flying back to the cape feeling a terrible failure as a father.

Like Aldrin, in my own career, there were periods of my kids’ youth I feel I missed– and I rarely left my city, much less the planet. Each Christmas, we gather as a family and watch holiday videos of our kids when they were little. As a rule, I have always had a great memory for events, but as I watch my kids as toddlers, there are long stretches of video I don’t remember– even though I know I was usually the person with the camera filming! Was I home? Was I engaged? Or was I thinking about work or some other distraction? Was I Buzz Aldrin zipping home for short, unsatisfying visits with my kids before returning to work?

I share my own experiences to reiterate that parenting is hard, even with the best foundation. I had a good father and I observed good fathers during my lifetime, and I knew I wanted to be a good father who utilized good parenting traits, and yet being a good father and maintaining a solid work-life balance was still a challenge. There were many occasions in my career where I was climbing the department ladder and was preoccupied with work, thinking what I was engaged in at work was a top priority. I can honestly say I did a lot of important work during my career, but I know now that work was never more important than my family and my commitment to being a father.

Being a father isn’t easy and being a good father is even more of a challenge. Life is full of surprises and kids have great and immediate needs, which can be challenging and frustrating. Being a father requires patience and understanding, and above all, flexibility. There is no script that one can follow that guarantees a successful ending. There will be curveballs thrown at you and you will strike out occasionally. In the end you must decide what is most important and work towards that endeavor. 

So how do we become fathers who are engaged and invested? It starts with modeling– observing how fathers behave at home and at work and adopting the behaviors we see that are effective. It continues by exhibiting selfless versus selfish behaviors and understanding that kids are kids and not small adults. We must understand work is work, and it is necessary to maintain a work-life balance and be present and invested when home. It helps to remind yourself that even the best plans go awry, and it is ok to make mistakes occasionally–but learn from those mistakes and don’t repeat them.

Being a father is one of the hardest jobs a man could experience, but it is also one that will provide the greatest joys and rewards. Nothing that comes from hard work is ever wasted. Most fathers have the best of intentions, but intentions are merely pipe dreams if they are not nurtured and acted upon. Being a good cop and a good father are not incompatible. As we approach this Father’s Day and celebrate being fathers, let us ask ourselves a very simple question as we wake each day: “What could I do today to be a better father?” And as we finish each day, ask ourselves “Did I do everything I could today to be a good father?”

Enjoy your Father’s Day, be proud of what you have accomplished, and don’t ever stop striving to do better. Happy Father’s Day!



About the Author

Capt. Brian Nanavaty (Ret.)

In 2010, Captain Brian Nanavaty created the groundbreaking Indianapolis Metro Police Department (IMPD) Office of Professional Development and Wellness (OPDW) which initiated a culture of health at IMPD and resulted in a reduction of officer disciplinary referrals by 40%. The IMPD program and Nanavaty were credited with inspiring the US Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act of 2017.

Upon retirement in 2017, Nanavaty continued to instruct employees, executives, union officials, insurance providers and clinicians in personal and career survival for the Department of Justice, the Valor for Blue and SAFLEO programs, the FBI, and the Dolan Consulting Group. He has presented at all major conferences including IACP, ILEETA, IADLEST, NOBLE, FOP and EAPA, and was a headline presenter at the 2017 National Crime Summit. He has been featured on YouTube, Police One, and in Law and Order magazine and the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. He was additionally a police wellness consultant for the television show Law and Order SVU in 2019.

 Nanavaty previously served on the FBINA Wellness Committee and the Fraternal Order of Police Safety and Wellness Committee where he designed a training portal for members and helped create an alcohol and mental health treatment and recovery network for first responders and families. Nanavaty additionally was a member of the Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) working group for the IACP Policy Center, and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) SME on police wellness issues.

In 2015, Nanavaty received the inaugural Destination Zero Valor Award from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and in 2016, in addition to appearing in front of the US Congress on issues of officer wellness, he was a finalist for the prestigious International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Officer of the Year award. In 2016, the White House sent US Attorney General Loretta Lynch to meet with Nanavaty as part of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing where Lynch stated, “Captain Nanavaty’s officer and agency wellness program in Indianapolis should be the model for law enforcement across the US.”

In 2016, Nanavaty and IMPD were awarded the BJA/COPS Microgrant for Officer Safety and Wellness and were part of the BJA/COPS Officer Safety and Wellness Group. In October 2016 IMPD was chronicled in the BJA/COPS Improving Law Enforcement Resilience publication. In 2019, Nanavaty’s work at IMPD was part of the 11 successful agency case studies summarized in the DOJ’s Report to Congress and in the NYPD Commissioner’s Officer Wellness Review.

Captain Nanavaty attended Franklin College (IN), Drew University (NJ), and the University of Virginia. He is a graduate of the 255th Session of the FBI National Academy Quantico VA. From 1994-2003 he was Adjunct Professor of Criminal Justice at Indiana and Purdue Universities.

His training courses include Officer and Agency Wellness—Hiring and Retiring Healthy®, Navigating the Officer Involved Shooting and Critical Incidents, and Peer Support and Mentoring in Law Enforcement: Enhancing Health, Performance, and Accountability.


Michigan’s Aging Population and the Impact on Law Enforcement

In your community, is elementary, middle, and high school enrollment down? With the exception of a few private schools that have seen a recent influx of students, are most other schools closing or consolidating? Do you notice more retirement age citizens than in past years, and fewer young people? Is your community building age 55 and over living communities, and senior citizen facilities, more rapidly than traditional family homes and childcare centers? Is your community building as many dog parks for pets as they are playgrounds for children? If not, your community is the exception to the rule across the State of Michigan. 

In recent years, U.S. Census data has shown that the long-term trend of an aging population in Michigan is likely to continue, even if some individual counties and municipalities have seen a slight uptick in population. Michigan’s population that is 55 years old and over now exceeds the population of persons 24 years old and under, and those trends are expected to continue.[1]

In June of 2023, Governor Whitmer established the Growing Michigan Together Council with the goal of addressing the challenges likely to be encountered by the state in the face of an aging population and increasing the working age population of the state.[2] In the council’s first report in December of 2023, it noted that Michigan is 49th out of 50 states in population growth and stated, “We’re losing too many of our talented young people and failing to attract others.”[3]

In April of 2024, the Michigan Center for Data and Analytics published a report on Michigan Statewide Population Projections through 2050. The report stated, “Michigan has shifted from a young, higher fertility population to an older, low fertility population. This is a challenging age structure for sustained population growth.”[4]

Aging populations are causing alarm in light of the burdens that these demographic shifts will create for those depending on accessible health care and pensions, as well as those expected to provide those services and pay into those systems.[5] The rapid aging of the Michigan population, which is set to accelerate in the coming years, will have profound impacts on our society across a multitude of different areas. Law enforcement is likely no exception.


What an Aging Population Means for Police Recruiting and Staffing


In discussing the challenges of recruiting and retention with law enforcement leaders across the country, a constant theme emerges—an apparent lack of qualified applicants in the generation of young men and women entering young adulthood. This is not unlike the challenge facing countless other public service professions and the military.

One of the key components of the challenge is the lower birth rate over recent decades, which is resulting in fewer numbers of available applicants. On top of the fact there are just fewer young people today, we must consider issues of mental health, drug addiction, obesity, and other issues that make Generation Z (those born after 1996) a particularly challenging applicant pool from which to hire individuals qualified for a career in law enforcement.

In June of 2023 in Michigan, local news reports indicated that the number of sworn law enforcement officers in the state has gone down 19% since 2001—decreasing from 23,000 to 18,500. This decrease led to one Michigan police chief describing his staffing challenges and asking, with reference to the labor shortage facing law enforcement and other employers in the area, “Where did everyone go?”[6] 

At the same time, thousands of officers who joined the profession 20 or 30 years ago are becoming eligible for retirement and are doing so. Recently, the executive leadership of the Cincinnati Police Department illustrated this reality in noting that, even if recruiting efforts in the coming years were successful, the retirement cliff facing the agency could not be avoided completely.[7]

All available demographic indicators point to the reality that the ranks of law enforcement will be thinning in the years to come, barring an unethical and counter-productive lowering of hiring standards. This significant lowering of standards has occurred in some agencies and the U.S. Department of Justice advocated for it in a recent report.[8] But if agencies maintain ethically and legally defensible hiring standards, their numbers of sworn officers are very likely to become smaller in many jurisdictions.

So, does this mean that alarm bells should be ringing and that we should anticipate decades of unchecked criminal activity as so many officers retire and so few are sworn in? Not necessarily.  There is another side of this population equation that is found in the shrinking numbers of young adults—the population segment statistically more likely to engage in violent crime.

In a sense, the same recruiting and staffing challenges facing law enforcement agencies may also face the criminal offenders who recruit young people to prey upon the community. If this proves to be true, it could be welcome news for police leaders committed to maintaining ethical hiring standards in the face of mounting officer vacancies. 

In Michigan, these pressures to compromise ethical hiring standards have been well publicized in recent months.[9] The Detroit Metro Times recently published a story including multiple interviews with law enforcement leaders from around the State of Michigan, reporting that “With so many open positions, law enforcement officials are worried that applicants with abusive histories will slip through the cracks and land a job.”[10]


What an Aging Population Could Mean for Rates of Violent Crime


There seem to be two sides of the coin when it comes to the aging Michigan population as it relates to law enforcement. On one side, as we have discussed, is the likelihood of fewer officers—at least in many jurisdictions. On the other side, is the likelihood of fewer young people and, therefore, a smaller population of those most likely to commit violent crimes.

Across cultures and over generations, we see that the prime demographic of violent law breakers tends to be young adult and male. When sheriffs and police chiefs discuss combating violent crime, are they referring to their community’s elderly population as the perpetrators? How many task force mass arrests of violent offenders involve the mug shots of offenders in their 60s and above? For those serving long prison terms, what percentage of them committed their crimes in middle or old age? 

The answers to these questions are obvious. Older people are statistically unlikely to become perpetrators of violent crime. So, as the young adult population shrinks, it would make sense to expect less violent crime. Could these demographic realities help to explain the drop in homicides and other violent crimes that we are seeing in some parts of the state—particularly in spite of the fact that so many agencies are engaging in less proactive policing than in recent years—either due to staffing shortages, political interference, or officer morale?[11]

More importantly, does an aging population indicate that law enforcement agencies in Michigan could operate with fewer sworn officers than in past years, when the population was younger and more statistically prone to engage in criminal activity?

This reality of declining numbers of law enforcement officers coinciding with broader concerns over a shrinking working age population is not unique to Michigan, although Michigan may face a greater demographic decline than other states.

Michigan’s demographic predicament means that law enforcement leaders and elected officials across the state should work to understand their jurisdiction’s changing age demographics in order to understand the operational realities that lie ahead.


Staffing Paradigm Shifts for Law Enforcement Leaders as the Population Gets Older

As law enforcement leaders seek to determine what their authorized strength should be with respect to sworn officers, simply looking to population numbers may be insufficient. How should we determine how many officers should an agency have as its authorized strength? Should it be based on the number of officers per 100,000 population? Or should agencies look for a new and more precise measure that takes into account the percentage of the population which is in the most crime-prone ages of 15 and 40?

In closing, it is important to note that this article does not propose that the need for proactive policing practices will no longer be a vital part of public safety in Michigan. There are, and will continue to be, hot spots of crime—dots on which to place cops. Violent crime is, and will sadly continue to be, an ever-present danger, particularly in communities suffering from poverty and social breakdown. 

The issue is one of scale. Can a motivated, proactive police force of 300 officers do the work that was required of 400 officers generations ago due to the changes in demographic realities? Is it possible that many agencies will be tasked with doing less with less in terms of personnel resources in the years ahead as the number of violent offenders declines as a result of demographic trends?

These questions and more should be a part of the conversations that law enforcement leaders and elected officials have involving staffing and operations in light of an aging population—a development that will likely have a dramatic effect on Michigan law enforcement in the years ahead.



About the Author

Matt Dolan, J.D.

Matt Dolan is a licensed attorney who specializes in training and advising public safety agencies in matters of legal liability, risk management and ethical leadership.  His training focuses on helping agency leaders create ethically and legally sound policies and procedures as a proactive means of minimizing liability and maximizing agency effectiveness.  

A member of a law enforcement family dating back three generations, he serves as both Director and an instructor with Dolan Consulting Group. He has trained thousands of law enforcement professionals over the last decade.

His training courses include Internal Affairs Investigations: Legal Liability and Best Practices, Supervisor Liability for Law Enforcement, Recruiting and Hiring for Law EnforcementConfronting the Toxic OfficerPerformance Evaluations for Public Safety and Confronting Bias in Law Enforcement.


Disclaimer: This article is not intended to constitute legal advice on a specific case.  The information herein is presented for informational purposes only.  Individual legal cases should be referred to proper legal counsel.



[1] Michigan Center for Data and Analytics, Michigan Statewide Population Projections through 2050 (Lansing, MI: Michigan Center for Data and Analytics, 2024) 14.

[2] John Gallagher, “Michigan Needs More Young People. Getting Them Won’t Be Easy,” Crain’s Detroit Business Forum, October 19, 2023. Accessed on May 22, 2024 at:

[3] Growing Michigan Together Council, Growing Michigan Together Council Report, December 14, 2023 (Lansing, MI: Growing Michigan Tother Council, December 14, 2023) 5. Accessed on May 22, 2024 at:

[4] Michigan Center for Data and Analytics, Michigan Statewide Population Projections through 2050 (Lansing, MI: Michigan Center for Data and Analytics, 2024) 3.

[5] William Brangham and Layla Quran, “How an Aging Population Poses Challenges for U.S. Economy, Workforce and Social Programs,” PBS News, June 27, 2023. Accessed on 03/08/2024 at:

[6] EUP News Staff, “Michigan’s Police Officer Shortage Becoming Dire: Where did everyone go?” EUP News, July 26, 2023. Accessed on 03/08/2024 at:

[7] Cameron Knight, “Without Action, Police Staffing Could Plummet by 2029,” Cincinnati Enquirer, March 21, 2023. Accessed on 03/08/2024 at:

[8] Bureau of Justice Assistance and Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Recruitment and Retention for the Modern Law Enforcement Agency: Revised (Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services,

2023) 3-4.

[9] Ross Jones, “State Reviews How Officer Joined Eastpointe Police While Facing Firing in Detroit,” WXYZ News, May 17, 2023. Accessed on 02/17/2024 at:; Ross Jones, “State Suspends ‘Greektown Punch’ Officer Who Avoided Firing by Joining Eastpointe PD: State Action Could End Officer Kairy Robert’s Law Enforcement Career,” WXYZ News, September 21, 2023. Accessed on 02/17/2024 at:; Rachel Eyler, “Crime Background of Arrested Former Officer Raises Questions in Investigation,” WJRT News, March 21, 2022. Accessed on 02/17/2024 at:;

[10] Steve Neavling, “Officer Shortage Puts Pressure on Michigan Police Departments to Hire ‘Wandering Cops,’ Detroit Metro Times, December 13, 2023. Accessed on May 22, 2024 at:,state%20lost%20about%20900%20officers.

[11] Bill Hutchinson, “It is Historic: US Poised to See Record Drop in Yearly Homicides Despite Public Concern Over Crime: The Year is Expected to End with Over 2,000 Fewer Murders Than in 2022,” ABC News, December 28, 2023. Accessed on 03/08/2024 at: 

Officer Burnout and Legal Liability

For many law enforcement agencies, summer represents an increase in call volumes, violent crime, public events, and other factors that place significant strains on sworn officers in the face of increasing public demands. This may be an ideal time to discuss the risks associated with officer burnout that result from too many hours worked without rest. 

While agencies may continually increase the financial incentives that entice officers to go without enough sleep or rest, and police leaders may be tempted to ignore the obvious exhaustion being exhibited by officers, eventually, officers will show signs of mental, physical, and emotional fatigue. This fatigue will impact their family lives and their work. The only question is how severe the impact will be and how long it will take for the “wear and tear” to become apparent.

Officer burnout is clearly a matter of officer health, officer retention, operational effectiveness, and public trust. Requiring exhausted officers to make split-second decisions regarding appropriate use of force, while engaging with the most difficult people in highly stressful situations, is a recipe for disaster in the court of law and the court of public opinion.

If all of the aforementioned issues prove insufficient to convince law enforcement leaders and elected officials to re-evaluate their deployment strategies in light of officer burnout, there is an additional consideration. There are legal liability risks associated with sleep deprived and overworked officers. Oftentimes, when appeals to officer health fall short of effectively “moving the needle,” the looming threat of legal fallout may be more effective in producing changes, as unfortunate as that might be.

In May of 2019, as the Minneapolis Police Department grappled with the reality of excessive overtime and exhausted MPD officers, a criminal justice professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice named Dennis Kenney offered the Minneapolis Star Tribune a very straightforward articulation of the issue of exhaustion among law enforcement officers. Based on his research with law enforcement officers, he indicated that fatigue produces a physiological response. Fatigue results in less attention and less focus. Hand-to-eye coordination begins to diminish as fatigue increases, and anger surfaces more rapidly. Kenney stated, “As I tell students: ‘I can work tired, I’m just not nice when I do it.’”[i]

While publicly denying that there was any connection between officer fatigue and poor decision making by officers, the public discussion of officer fatigue actually came on the heels of the City of Minneapolis having settled in the amount of $20 Million in a negligent fatal shooting case involving Officer Mohamed Noor. Officer Noor had worked a seven-hour shift at an off-duty assignment before beginning the MPD shift during which he would inexplicably shoot and kill a woman who had called 911 for assistance. The woman he shot and killed, whose family filed the lawsuit, was standing outside her residence in her pajamas when the squad car approached her. She was shot and killed by Officer Noor, who fired from the passenger side of the squad car, within moments of the officers’ arrival.[ii]

In discussing the department’s failure to account for hours worked in relation to agency policies limiting off-duty hours, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey concluded, “If we can’t track hours worked, that’s not good.”[iii]

It is striking to realize that the Minneapolis Police Department, the flash point agency for debates surrounding police misconduct and police reform over the last four years, was publicly grappling with the issue of officer burnout in the months and years leading up to the in-custody death of George Floyd, and the subsequent fall out that continues to this day.

Officer Supply and Public Demand

The challenge of maintaining adequate staffing levels, which impacts officer time off, has been another issue facing police leaders in recent years. In August 2023, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) published a report on the state of police staffing in the United States. PERF compiled some of the most comprehensive statistics regarding police recruiting, staffing, and retention, based on its surveys of law enforcement agencies across the country. Based on PERF’s survey of over one-hundred law enforcement agencies across the country, its findings indicated that officer staffing levels fell by 4.8% overall between January of 2020 and January of 2023, fueled by substantial increases in both resignations and retirements.[1]

These statistics are not surprising, given the nationwide trend of reported struggles in recruiting, retention, and staffing by law enforcement agencies. These statistics are also consistent with the thousands of exchanges that I have had with police leaders in recent years in which they express increased struggles in reaching and maintaining authorized staffing levels of sworn officers. 

News accounts of cities in desperate need of more law enforcement man-hours are abundant. The decades of declining U.S. birth rates, and the current labor shortages across all professions, suggest that the overwhelming demand for more officers will not subside anytime soon. 

As a result of these circumstances, agencies across the country saw explosions in police overtime spending in 2023. Portland, Oregon officers were offered double overtime to fill vacant shifts.[2] In Philadelphia, police officer overtime increased by 36% in the face of a staffing shortfall.[3] The Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office in Michigan reported the highest rates of mandatory overtime in recent history.[4] The Spokane Police Department’s overtime budget grew by 50%, year over year.[5] Chicago’s police superintendent sought to “rein in” overtime spending, which had reached levels far in excess of $200 million after multiple years.[6]

These financial assessments of the costs of police overtime do not calculate, however, the human toll on officers and their families, and the liability risks created by allowing or mandating staggering amounts of overtime and/or off-duty work. We will never be able to precisely calculate how many costly and career-ending decisions by officers were significantly impacted by officer burnout in the form of excessive hours worked, lack of sleep and rest, and inadequate opportunities for quality family time. Only time will tell how many plaintiff attorneys will seek to use the fact that officers were permitted or mandated to work excessive hours as a source of agency liability in cases of alleged misconduct or negligence in the years ahead.

In Chicago, in the summer of 2022, several aldermen moved to pass legislation affirming Chicago police officers’ rights to days off, barring emergencies. This came in the wake of three CPD officer suicides in one month, and 20 officer suicides in three years.[7] Shortly thereafter, the Chicago Police Department instituted a new policy under which officers could have no more than one day of requested days-off canceled in a single week, with the exception of holidays. Then-mayor Lori Lightfoot commented that, “tired, emotionally wrought officers is not good for them, not good for their families, and not good, frankly, for the community members that they’re serving.”[8]

The case of Chicago in 2022 is a sadly common one. Issues surrounding officer burnout and mental health are addressed, if at all, only after a surge in officer suicides. Police leaders and elected officials owe it to their officers and their communities to be honest about the human limitations within which they must operate when it comes to officer hours worked. Part of that conversation should involve a recognition that various mental health resources, as valuable as they are, cannot undo the damage often done to officers’ mental and physical health as a result of excessive work and time away from their families.   

It should be sufficient to simply argue to elected officials and other decision-makers that officer burnout is a threat to the well-being of the men and women in their law enforcement agencies. Unfortunately, it sometimes seems that only the specter of liability may be the factor that motivates many of those decision-makers to approach this issue with the seriousness that it deserves.

Voluntary Overtime Policies—Protecting Our People from Themselves

Many agencies have worked to move from mandatory overtime to voluntary overtime, but this change does not necessarily solve the problem. First, there is a strong argument to be made that financially-stressed officers should not have the option to work excessive overtime—whether for the department or for an outside entity in the form of off-duty work. This is because doing so would pose liability and safety risks to themselves and the public. Secondly, even when limits exist in policy, time and time again, agency leaders have failed to adequately monitor overtime hours worked by officers to ensure that the policies limiting work hours are adhered to.

As mentioned above, in the months before the in-custody death of George Floyd, one of the areas of mismanagement that Minneapolis Police and city leaders were seeking to address was the issue of officer exhaustion in a system where hours worked were simply not tracked. 

In addition to the inherent liability risks associated with excessive overtime, there is also an increased risk of officers engaging in unlawful overtime fraud when police leadership fails to diligently monitor hours worked, compare those hours to relevant policies, and ensure that the cops on the street know that their hours are being evaluated. Notable overtime scandals have emerged in the last three years that illustrate this fact in New Orleans, Baltimore and Albuquerque.[9]

As with so many critical areas of police operations and liability management, creating sound policies and procedures is often not the difficult part. Rather, the steady and mundane work of monitoring performance and conduct and ensuring that those well-crafted policies and procedures are followed, is the hard part. This is what separates highly professional agencies from dysfunctional ones. In the case of some of the agencies referenced above, the issue was not that the overtime and off-duty work policies and procedures were flawed, but that the ability and/or willingness of agency leadership to track hours worked was woefully lacking.

One final cause for serious concern in regard to voluntary excessive overtime work is brought to the forefront by asking the question: Who is most likely to put in for the most overtime? Is there a distinct possibility that the men and women experiencing the most serious financial strains, and the personal and family stress so often associated with those strains, are those volunteering for the most overtime? If this is so, it is highly plausible that an agency’s most vulnerable  officers are taking on greater risks for themselves and their agencies by working more and more. 


Consider the idea of officers working in a state of exhaustion in comparison to officers working under the influence of alcohol. In past generations of American law enforcement, the consumption of alcohol on duty was not taken nearly as seriously as it is now. With time, cultural shifts based on the growing appreciation of the dangers associated with alcohol consumption while engaged in dangerous and complex tasks have resulted in a current reality where such conduct would be shocking to the public, supervisors, and rank-and-file officers, alike. 

It is striking to think that the same police leaders who would never allow officers to work while under the influence of alcohol—shaking their heads in disbelief at generations past that allowed it—are now allowing, or even mandating, that troopers, deputies, and officers across the country work schedules that are so demanding and detrimental to their sleep and rest, that they might as well be operating at levels similar to legal intoxication. 

Is it possible that in one or two generations, police leaders will look back on this era in disbelief that cops were allowed to work, carrying guns and badges, and encountering stressful, often life and death situations, while being so low on sleep that they may as well have been drunk?

About the Author

Matt Dolan, J.D.

Matt Dolan is a licensed attorney who specializes in training and advising public safety agencies in matters of legal liability, risk management and ethical leadership.  His training focuses on helping agency leaders create ethically and legally sound policies and procedures as a proactive means of minimizing liability and maximizing agency effectiveness.  

A member of a law enforcement family dating back three generations, he serves as both Director and an instructor with Dolan Consulting Group. He has trained thousands of law enforcement professionals over the last decade.

His training courses include Internal Affairs Investigations: Legal Liability and Best Practices, Supervisor Liability for Law Enforcement, Recruiting and Hiring for Law EnforcementConfronting the Toxic OfficerPerformance Evaluations for Public Safety and Confronting Bias in Law Enforcement.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to constitute legal advice on a specific case.  The information herein is presented for informational purposes only.  Individual legal cases should be referred to proper legal counsel.


[1] Police Executive Research Forum, Responding to the Staffing Crisis: Innovations in Recruitment and Retention (Washington, DC: Police Executive Research Forum, 2023). Accessed on April 5, 2024 at:   

[2] John R. Ferrara, “PPB Offering Officers Double Overtime to Fill Vacant Shifts Amid Staffing Crisis,” KOIN CBS Portland News, August 16, 2023. Accessed on April 5, 2024 at:

[3] Anna Orso, “Philadelphia is Spending a Record Amount on Overtime as 1 in 5 City Jobs Sits Vacant,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 5, 2023. Accessed on April 5, 2024 at:   

[4] Ron French, “Michigan Police Shortage Becoming Dire: Where Did Everyone Go?” The Bridge: The Bridgeman, Michigan Newspaper, July 2, 2023. Accessed on April 6, 2024 at:

[5] Emry Dinman, “Spokane Police Overtime Budget Nearly Doubled in 2023: It Won’t Be Nearly Enough,” The Spokesman Review, June 28, 2023. Accessed on April 6, 2024 at:

[6] Heather Cherone, “Chicago’s Top Cop Vows to Rein in Police Overtime Spending as 2023 Bill Tops $200M,” WTTW NPR News, October 0, 202. Accessed on April 6, 2024 at:

[7] Fran Spielman and Tom Schuba, “Chicago Police Officers Could Decline Excessive Overtime Hours Under Proposed Ordinance,” Chicago Fox 32 News, July 20, 2022. Accessed on April 7, 2024 at:

[8] Charlie De Mar, “CPD Makes Change After Scathing Report on Cancellation of Officers’ Days Off,” CBS Chicago Channel 2 News, August 30, 2022. Accessed on April 7, 2023 at:   

[9] John Simerman, “26 New Orleans Police Officers Suspended from Off-Duty Security Work Amid Investigation,”, November 18, 2021. Accessed on April 8, 2024 at:; Associated Press, “Baltimore School Police Officer Indicted on Overtime Fraud Charges,” Associated Press, September 8, 2023. Accessed on April 8, 2024 at:; Larry Barker, “‘Worst I’ve Seen’: APD Overtime Scandal Uncovered,” KRQE News, March 15, 2022. Accessed on April 8, 2024 at: