Should Cops Be Physically Fit?

imagesCAM5SVKDWhat is the role of health in policing?

Should our police be required to be fit not only mentally and morally, but also physically?

For many years, I carried the torch for police wellness — basic police fitness and health standards — beyond the entry level. I believed that all police should be able to demonstrate a basic level of body strength and aerobic fitness throughout their career.

As you may imagine, not everyone in the organization welcomed my efforts. Yet, as former Chief Mike Masterson of Boise, Idaho, writes below, wellness programs can save police lives.

Looking at the national data regarding deaths of police officers, they are in greater danger of  a heart attack, debilitating effects of diabetes, and traffic accidents (many still do not wear seatbelts) than from the actions of criminals with guns.

I think there is a strong argument that police should be fit and able to carry out the emergency functions of their work throughout their career. One of the principle characters on a popular television cop show in the 80s often remarked — “No fat cops stealing apples!” Which meant he expected his officers to stay in shape and be honest!

Read what Chief Masterson has to say about the cardiac fitness program in Boise:

OFFICER SAFETY CORNER: Getting to the “Heart” of Officer Safety
By Mike Masterson, Chief of Police, Boise, Idaho, Police Department
When leaders in law enforcement think of officer safety, issues like driving, firearms, and defensive tactics come to mind. Yet, a new initiative by the Boise (Idaho) Police Department (BPD) demonstrates the need for life-saving programs to take a much more personalized approach and consider personal health an element of officer safety, particularly heart disease. Boise police officers are now part of a five-year Coronary Artery Disease Risk Assessment Screening Research Study conducted by Dr. Rob Hilvers, Dr. Steve Writer, and Dr. Pennie Seibert.

The program originally included only firefighters, but was expanded in 2013 to include two Boise area police departments—and it’s already making a difference.During the first weeks of the study, a 39-year-old BPD officer was identified as having major arterial blockage in the heart, which was discovered during the annual exercise cardiac stress testing (continuous EKG while running on a treadmill) that was made available to all officers at no cost as part of the study.

The discovery led to immediate bypass surgery to repair the arteries, which were estimated to be 80 and 95 percent blocked. A month later, a second officer in his early 40s, prompted to take the cardiac stress test by his coworker’s experience, found he had a similar condition.

One simple test saved two lives in one month in a police agency of 300 sworn officers. Other tests in the study have proven benefits, as well—just a few weeks ago, an officer learned of a “hole” in his heart through the calcium screen and further medical tests are being conducted. Education, nutrition, exercise, and healthy lifestyle choices are just as important for officer safety as tactical and firearms training. Still, programs that emphasize the need for wellness and a healthy lifestyle have gone by the wayside in many departments.

It is encouraging, however, that the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has taken note of the large number of officers dying of heart disease and is reviving discussion on the issue…

[To read the entire article, CLICK HERE.]

12 Comments

  1. It says page not found for the link to the full piece. As for what I read, I do agree that physical health is important not just for police officers, but all professions.

    Police officers especially though benefit from being fit on the job, especially when they need to chase, and apprehend suspects.

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  2. In the British Army, if you do not pass the fitness test every year, they put you on a warning order for a specific time period. From what I had heard a long time ago, Japanese workers go have a 1 hour of exercise before they go to work. In the Japanese police, they practice Kenpo every day and many of those cops go on to become martial art experts themselves. I bet you that some of the older Japanese police officers who look like they are heavyweight could still outfight even our skinnier, younger cops.

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  3. This is a pet peeve of mine. A simple Google search shows dozens of articles about the benefits of a fitness program. Especially in law enforcement, which is a very high stress job which often requires very complex fitness capabilities. Well… At least it SHOULD. As a DT Instructor it is very upsetting when you see an officer who hasn’t done any physical activity since the last year’s training. Lack of fitness is not only a health problem, but can be a direct factor in use of force situations. Departments with mandatory fitness standards tend to have higher morale and less sick leave usage.

    People like to talk about how you can “improve” policing. In my personal opinion it is actually VERY simple. Institute a PT test that is mandatory to pass to remain employed every quarter. The second is to have the legislation put their money where their mouth is. Make it mandatory for all LE agencies to provide DT training on a monthly basis instead of 8 hours of DT a YEAR. Most use of force situations that end up as a viral YouTube video, aren’t because of excessive force. They tend to be officers who use innefective force, which allows the situation to continue to escalate. Skilled officers are usually able to quickly and decisively take control of the situation and get the suspect into custody. One really violent (feeling) takedown that stuns a suspect and takes away the desire to fight is always going to be more effective than playing patty cake over a failed armbar attempt and then stumbling around trying to get a suspect into cuffs and having to steadily increase the force up to and including lethal force.

    Of course actually providing training is expensive. Most agencies are understaffed and under paid. If Americans want better law enforcement they have to be willing to PAY for it in the form of enough bodies to be able to provide frequent training and still have staffing on the road. Personally I don’t think it will ever happen, but one can hope.

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    1. As a fellow DT instructor I totally agree. As a chief of police, I still have the scars from my battles with the police union on this. Let me tell you my story, I attempted and was initially successful in negotiating a fitness standard, officers received PAY for working out! But some thought it too difficult even though we retained Univ. of Wisc. exercise physiologists to make sure our program was job, age, and gender related. Well, it went along ok for a while but next contract talks came up and some folks within the union dangled free dental care in front of the membership in lieu of the paid exercise program and the membership bought it. The end result is that they lost the exercise program and never got the free dental! Oh, well… “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” I agree totally with your comments on this. I do believe unfit and under-trained (and thus fearful)police make these bad use of force decisions. If I was “King of the Police” I would require on-going martial arts training and job-related physical and aerobic fitness standards as a condition of employment. We need to get serious about the physical (and mental) requirements of policing a free society! Thanks for your comments. Press on. Be hopeful!

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  4. You will never find enough bodies due to various draconian laws being passed since 9/11 where just about anyone can easily get an even a minor criminal record to the point where employers will not hire you. Also due to corporate malfeasance in the last 37 years, people have been putting off marriage and having kids to the point the USA has had the lowest birthrate since 1935. Employers in all occupations are complaining about a shortage of skilled workers; however, they were the ones responsible for DIS-INVESTING in American society for the last 37 years. Getting enough bodies does not mean you get better law enforcement when the training period for officers is pathetic compared to Europe. In addition, you don’t have more advanced training for officers moving into ranks from lieutenant to chief of police compare to Europe.

    With the exception of CEOs, most of Americans are underpaid plus being subject to wage theft and being force overtime with no pay. At least that doesn’t happen to police officers; otherwise, police unions would be all over the city, county and state officials.

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