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7 tactics to keep police alert on third shift

Even on quiet nights, there are other creatures inhabiting the darkness that would do the night-shift officer harm, so use these self-initiated activities to help stay alert

Get out, park your squad and walk. You will be surprised at what you see and hear.

One reason officers like working third shift is because of the action. There are nights, however, when the radio and the streets seem to be competing for the silence. Even on these long, quiet nights, officers must find ways to stay alert. Here are the seven ways to stay awake on a quiet night.

1. The Hunter

Convince yourself the quiet is a diversion orchestrated by a serial murderer and he is working right now! You must find him. Just like hunting in the woods, even if your prey eludes you, the hunt itself becomes exciting.

2. The Fixer

Take it upon yourself to stop every car and truck you see with an equipment violation. Use caution on your approaches. This process will lead you inevitably to people who are wanted, driving after revocation, or sometimes on their way to and from crimes.

When it turns out to be just another good citizen, develop the ability to end the stop on a positive note.

If this seems a petty waste of your talents, remember that Timothy McVeigh was caught because of a missing registration plate.

3. The Guardian

Stop in at every all-night “stop and rob” on your beat. Always visually clear the surrounding area first as well as the inside before entering. Introduce yourself to the attendant(s). Tell them you are on this beat regularly and encourage them to call if they have problems.

Work out a signal indicating there may be problems inside. Tell them that if everything is “okay” when you drive by in the future, they should wave and smile. If they want you to stop and check out a problem person inside the store, they need just ignore you or look sternly at you and do not wave. This will signal to you that you should check it out.

Every time you stop thereafter call them by name. Each stop will let them know there is someone out there who cares, and they’ll communicate this positive message about police to others.

To make a lasting impression, pay for your soda or coffee.

4. The Doorman/Doorwoman

There is value to getting out of your squad car and pulling doors on businesses. You’ll not only find the occasional open door, but you will also discover the shark bites.

Burglars are like sharks; pry marks are like a shark bite that leaves blood in the water. If the business is hit once, it’ll be hit again. Therefore, when you find old pry marks, it gives you a spot that should be a high priority to check often in the future.

Occasionally this process may lead you to new pry marks and an in-progress burglary, which will instantly turn a boring night into a night to remember.

5. The Walkman/Walkwoman

Get out, park your squad and walk. You will be surprised at what you see and hear. Stay within a short distance of your squad in the event you get a call. You may hear squealing tires, breaking glass, arguing drunks, sobbing victims and the other noises of the night that will beckon you.

You’ll be able to plot the courses of future foot pursuits by seeing the beaten paths, the hazards and the cut cyclone fences.

6. The Metermaid/Meterman

Every jurisdiction has some sort of nighttime parking regulation, especially in the business district. Put out some parking tickets to document the time and place a car was at a certain place at a certain time.

This might seem to be an assignment below the dignity of a crime fighter, but remember that “Son of Sam” was caught because of a parking ticket.

7. The Creature of the Night

In spite of all these efforts, sometimes the shift draws on without incident. Even so, there are benefits to working the “graveyard shift” on a quiet night other than the night differential pay.

Every cop at one time during their career has been a creature of the night. It is hard to realize it at the time, but when you look back, these days will often be the best times of your law enforcement life. It is important to enjoy these nights while they last.

Even on quiet nights, there are other creatures inhabiting the darkness that would do the night-shift officer harm, so use these self-initiated activities to help stay alert. It is important to only be surprised when nothing happens. Never be surprised when something happens.

By finding ways to stay active and alert, you’re making certain third shift is not the last shift you work. Be careful out there!

This article, originally published on 04/08/2015, has been updated.

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.