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A Cop's Thanksgiving

So you have to work on Thanksgiving... again.  The overtime pay is good, you might have even signed up for the shifts, but if you have a family you probably wish you could be with them no matter what your circumstances are.   There is obviously a critical need for first responders and medical personnel to be on duty.  You don’t have to be an Allstate agent to know that “trouble never takes a holiday”.  Neither does crime or death.  In reality there are other jobs which require employees to work on Thanksgiving holidays, and it seems like the list is growing longer every year.  You got to love capitalism.  But in this day and age you have to love employment too; so you work. 

There is no typical day for any patrol, traffic, investigative, or supervisory office on any given holiday.  It could be dead quiet and extremely boring, just busy enough to make the shift pass quickly, or even unimaginably horrible.  This Thanksgiving all you are hoping for is a low key day, with minimal paperwork so you can enjoy the station’s potluck or slip home for a portion of the family feast.   You’re hoping for the parade detail; that can be pretty entertaining.  Maybe you will be able to catch some football. But, as you know, that isn’t probable.  In fact the whole holiday weekend, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to the Monday after, can be a law enforcement nightmare related to calls for service.   

Thanksgiving Eve: 

Thanksgiving Eve, sometimes referred to as “Black Wednesday”, is unofficially considered the busiest bar night of the year.  It is the overall 2nd most popular party night of the year (I am sure you can guess #1).  Think of all the college kids heading home for the first time of the academic year, it’s like the scenes from a spring break in South Beach in your own town.  Or how about the company parties or happy hours with coworkers before heading home for the long weekend?  It seems like everyone has a reason to celebrate; and they do to excess. 

Thanksgiving weekend is also the most traveled holiday period of the year with almost 90% of those traveling doing so by car.  43.6 million Americans are expected to travel at least 50 miles from home for 2012 Thanksgiving holiday. This all relates to an increase DUI related traffic accidents.  Thanksgiving tops the list of the deadliest times to be on the road (followed by Labor Day and Independence Day).

Thanksgiving Day: 

Partner violence typically increases 22% on Thanksgiving.  There are increased calls as family members who normally aren't together get into more than just heated arguments.  You also get custody battle calls related to shared parenting.  Add alcohol and football upsets to the mix and police officers have their hands full.  If your department covers the FD you will be busier than usual.  Cooking fires occur twice as often on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year.  The good news is that contrary to popular beliefs, the number of attempted and/or completed suicides does not increase on Thanksgiving, or Christmas for that matter (rates do increase on New Year’s Day).  Actually these holidays are associated with a lowered rate of suicide.  It is believed that the increased family and social support structures during the holidays may actually be protective against suicide attempts. 

By Thursday evening, after  most of the games, while everyone is stuffed the only thing left to look forward tois raiding the refrigerator for that turkey sandwich (best part of the holiday as far as I am concerned) and the bargain shopping of Black Friday.  Which now starts at about 1800 Thanksgiving Day?  And you all know what that means.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Let the chaos begin.  Not only is Black Friday the busiest shopping day of the year, it also the busiest shoplifting day of the year.  Black Friday accounts for 10% of retailers’ holiday sales.  Last year 26 million shoppers hit the stores on Black Friday.  Annually, more than $13 billion worth of goods are stolen from retailers.  The rate of shoplifting is 1 in 11 “shoppers”.   That means on Black Friday there are about 2.4 million shoplifters attempting to get the truly best bargain in town.  Of course stores increase their security for the season, thieves are caught, and you are called, maybe over and over again if your beat includes a mall. 

Let’s not forget the crazy shoppers, who will go to any length to get one of fifty Furbies, or 1 in100 Nintendo Wii U.  Last year Black Friday led to riots as people brawled over video consoles, waffle irons and discounted towels.  A woman in LA injured 20 people with pepper spray, which she used to gain an edge on other shoppers in a rush for an Xbox at Walmart.  I am looking forward to posts of the shopping pandemonium on YouTube. 

And that’s not the half of it, literally.  We wind up the holiday with the newly traditional Cyber Monday.  It is estimated that 150 million shoppers will hit their computers/smart phones and make purchases on that day.  Crooks and scammers have been baiting their traps for wearied shoppers hunting for irresistibly good buys all year.  Welcome to cyber crime city, call in the detectives.

Emotional Toll of Missing the Holiday

The emotional toll of working Thanksgiving can be substantial for an officer and his/her family.  Unless you a newbie this won’t be the first family holiday you have had to miss due to your career choice. Many officers feel like they are disappointing children, spouses, other family members, as well as themselves.   There really is no way to make this one up, but you will feel obligated to try.  You may have to work Christmas as well.  Family members try to understand, but you can see the sadness in their eyes.

Additionally, because the holidays are a time for reflection, officers, like anyone else, are susceptible to feelings of melancholy.   This can become painful for the officer whose memories include someone he/she has killed in the line of duty.  Even if an OIS was justified, on Thanksgiving (or Christmas) an officer may reflect on the individual’s family—how are they coping today.  Or may muse about the family of the officer was killed in the line of duty.  For some officers a difficult call may cause him to remember other painful calls on a previous holiday, or a personally bad holiday, reliving the events and feelings.

The Upside of Working Thanksgiving

Anyone who has to access emergency services on Thanksgiving can because of you.  That includes you, your family, and your friends.  And yes, people are very thankful for that. 

 I have missed many Thanksgiving meals with my husband and children.  I feel guilty about and attempt to rationalize it to them and to myself.  I thought that I had disappointed my family, but I overheard them bragging to others about my work and some of the sacrifices that I have made.  It is true; I have never worked a Thanksgiving that I didn’t make at least one stranger’s holiday a little better.  My family started a tradition of serving Thanksgiving dinners with service groups who prepared meals for the less fortunate or lonely citizens in our community. 

This Thanksgiving take time to evaluate your own life, what is most important to you?  Keep things in perspective and take some time to reflect on what you want and what you are thankful for.  Make time to write down 10-20 things you are thankful for, share it with a loved one, a partner or other officers who read  When you are feeling a little down review your list or someone else’s to rekindle some gratitude.   I’ll get you started

I’m thankful for:

  • My family, friends, and colleagues
  • Naps
  • A considerate editor
  • Chocolate
  • An ability to make a difference
  • Laughter
  • Hikes in the mountains
  • Being an American
  • My health
  • Heroes
  • Western movies
  • ………………. (your turn)

And yes, I’m thankful to all the command staff who volunteers to work a holiday so that an officer with a family can stay home.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours; and thank you for all that you do.