Career Physical Fitness Standards

We require officers to be in shape to start their careers; why not require them to stay that way?


A subject that was discussed vigorously in police circles a decade ago is that of career physical fitness standards for police officers. The subject seemed to all off the radar screen with the terrorist attacks on September 11th, and the subsequent plethora of new law enforcement-related topics and concerns that resulted from them. Nonetheless, the idea stayed alive, with more agencies placing a premium (literally, with bonuses) on physical fitness, and with high-profile stories about agency heads insisting on their officers being fit

There are arguments for and argument against career standards. Let's take them one at a time, with the for arguments first.

Arguments for career standards

When you really need a cop, you need physical intervention. Here's an old academy question for you: what makes a police officer a police officer? The badge? The gun? Nope. It's the arrest powers. That is, only a police officer can deprive a fellow citizen of their freedom. Your mayor doesn't have this power, and neither does the governor. Even the President doesn't - only a police officer does. So what makes a cop a cop is that he or she can arrest someone. Anyone can write citations; anyone can write reports; anyone can perform investigations. Only a cop can slap cuffs on someone. Now, arresting someone is a physical activity, and one in which much of the danger of the profession lies. Also, it's during an arrest that you are most likely to get into a fight with your suspect. Common sense would indicate that you'd want to be in good physical shape to do this, and common sense would also suggest that your agency would only want to have physically fit officers doing arrests. So when you are really a cop (when you're arresting someone), you are engaged in strenuous (or potentially strenuous) activity, and physical fitness counts.

If you needed to be fit to get into the academy, then why not now? Well, at least police academies used to have physical fitness standards that weren't a joke. Many still do (but not my home state of Massachusetts, unfortunately.) Presumably these standards exist because some reasonably smart people (or maybe just people with some common sense) decided that cops should be fit. Well, if being fit is a requirement of the job, then it's a requirement of the job. To argue otherwise argues for eliminating fitness standards for academy entrance to begin with, and few people would argue that.

Out of shape cops are embarrassing. This is, I hope, self evident.

Fat cops are a danger to themselves. If you get into a foot chase, or just a high-stress event, with a fat cop, you'd better hope you remember CPR, and that there's a de-fib unit nearby. This is just basic health: being fat makes you much more susceptible to heart attacks under stress.

If they are a danger to themselves, they are a danger to you. If your porky buddy is the guy you're relying on to help you make the arrest, run the suspect down, or return fire effectively, and he goes down, it's not good for either your survival or success chances.

Police officers are supposed to be role models. Also self-explanatory.

Arguments against career standards

You can do your job just fine out of shape. Well, obviously this isn't entirely true, because more or less by definition, the physical parts of the job are better performed by physically fit officers. On the other hand, many heavy (fat) cops do just fine in street fights, and many are excellent shooters. So long as they don't exert themselves, they can be fine. Besides, much of the job isn't physical at all. Whether the majority of the job requires arrest powers or not, the fact is that most cops spend the majority of their day sedentary. This is more true as you progress up the ranks, and many command officers (and some officers working special assignments) are never on the street at all, and are never in any more danger, nor do they have to perform physical work more than the average citizen. In fact, some of the very best command officers I work with are on the heavy side. Several of them, in fact, I'd very much want with me in a bad situation.

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