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Variation in officer downtime: a review of the research

Christine N. Famega (Department of Criminal Justice, California State University – San Bernardino, San Bernardino, California, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 1 September 2005




To summarize and compare both the methodology and findings of existing studies of patrol officer workload that have contributed to what is known about “downtime” (time not responding to citizen calls for service), and provide more standardized estimates of downtime for comparison purposes.


A total of 11 studies of police workload published between 1970 and 2001 that used data collected through either dispatch records or systematic social observations of police officers, and reported information regarding the amount and use of patrol officer downtime, are summarized and compared. The studies report information for 13 different (US) police departments and averages for the 24 departments studied in the Police Services Study (1977). A consistent measure of downtime is estimated for each study.


A consistent measure of downtime estimated for each study yields more similar results across studies than the originally reported findings suggest. For the studies that used data collected through dispatch records, the average amount of downtime is 70 percent of a patrol officer's shift, for the studies that used systematic social observation data 79 percent. Observations regarding the methodologies and contributions of workload studies are discussed.

Research limitations/implications

Suggested changes in the reporting of future workload study findings would provide more accurate information and facilitate comparisons across studies, benefiting both researchers and police administrators.

Practical implications

These findings suggest patrol officers always have had, and continue to have, a lot of downtime available for restructuring.


Compiles, organizes, and compares information regarding what is known about the amount and use of patrol officer downtime, and suggests researchers and administrators consider approaching the study and use of downtime in new ways.



Famega, C.N. (2005), "Variation in officer downtime: a review of the research", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 28 No. 3, pp. 388-414.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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