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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

145 N Street, N.E.
Washington, DC 20530

May 2022 | Volume 15 | Issue 5

Sun blazing and oppressive humidity during the late afternoon... uniform, vest, duty belt and an empty water bottle after back-to-back calls for service... responding to a potential domestic violence incident in a residence with no AC and stifling air that smells of burned food—while ideal circumstances for response calls are rare, the increasing heat of the summer season can impact even the fittest officers. Rising heat has long been anecdotally associated with violent crime, and it has been argued that climate change can be blamed for some increases in violent crime rates.1

Heat-Related Illness Symptoms and Signs
Heat stroke
  • Confusion
  • Heavy sweating or hot, dry skin
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Slurred speech
  • Unconsciousness
  • Very high body temperature
Heat exhaustion
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Elevated body temperature or fast heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Heavy sweating
  • Irritability
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Thirst
Heat cramps
  • Muscle spasms or pain, usually in legs, arms, or trunk
Heat syncope
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
Heat rash
  • Clusters of red bumps on skin, often on neck, upper chest, and skin folds
Rhabdomyolysis (muscle breakdown)
  • Dark urine or reduced urine output
  • Muscle pain
  • Weakness

It is critical for law enforcement officers take special care of themselves during hot weather to avoid illness and medical emergencies. The symptoms of heat illness can include headache, nausea, and dizziness, as well additional signs listed in the “Matrix of Heat Illness Symptoms.” If heat illness isn’t promptly addressed, people of all ages can suffer a medical emergency, but especially the elderly and those in physically demanding jobs, such as law enforcement.

It’s important for law enforcement officers and all first responders to take precautions against heat illness from the first warm days of the year. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a Heat Illness Prevention Campaign with resources for law enforcement and community stakeholder groups. OSHA begins its “WATER. REST. SHADE.” awareness campaign every May to remind workers that heat tolerance and precautions are necessary long before the hottest days of July and August.

Recommendations for leadership are clear in the title: promote breaks in shady and cool areas with regular water intake throughout the day. In addition, people working outdoors or in hot areas should dress for the heat, including a hat, and wear sunscreen of at least 30 SPF with multiple applications on each shift. Everyone should watch out for coworkers throughout the day and verbally check with anyone wearing a face mask to confirm their health.

Officers should also consider heat illness as a contributor during calls for services. Overcrowded dwellings with stale air have a negative impact on even the most loving families and friendly neighbors. On hot days, de-escalation of potential offenders may involve simple actions such as bottles of water, a shady place to sit, and a breeze or a fan. Heat illness or medical emergency should also be a consideration when engaging with individuals who appear intoxicated or suffering from mental health issues. Heat reactions should be addressed as part of overall response for everyone, but especially for homeless people and seniors who are particularly sensitive to temperature and humidity.

Climate change impacts everyone directly through temperature extremes and indirectly through the results of natural disasters: weeks and months without electricity, safe housing, or clean, fresh water. It is important for first responders to care for themselves and their peers—even with basics such as a reminder to fill their water bottles—and to be aware of how heat and humidity can contribute to rising tempers and poor decisions when responding to service calls. As part of summer outreach and events such as Back to School days, officers should talk with community members about how to prevent and respond to heat illness.

Other Resources

COPS Office. 2012. Safety and Health Information and Education for Law Enforcement Departments: An Annotated Bibliography. Washington, DC: COPS Office.

Hill, Julia, Sean Whitcomb, Paul Patterson, Darrel W. Stephens, and Brian Hill. 2014. Making Officer Safety and Wellness Priority One: A Guide to Educational Campaigns. Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.


1. Tiihonen, Jari et al. “The Association of Ambient Temperature and Violent Crime.” Scientific reports vol. 7,1 6543. 28 Jul. 2017,

Elizabeth Simpson
Social Science Analyst
COPS Office

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