Career Physical Fitness Standards

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


Some people are naturally fat. I used to say BS to this, but I'm becoming more aware of the simple fact that some people are genetically more susceptible to weight gain than others. On the other hand, even in those cases, diet and exercise can pretty much keep these people fit, but admittedly their diet has to be more severely restricted than it does for naturally thin people. Our society is full of crappy food, and eating healthy can seem difficult. On the other side of that proposition, however, is the fact that healthy food is now widely available, and requires just a little effort to get. The Pima Indians evolved in an area of the southwest in which their metabolisms had to extract every last bit of energy and nutrition from their meager natural food. Once exposed to a typical American diet, they gain extreme weight, and many now exceed 300 pounds. Yet there are examples of severely obese Pimas carefully controlling their diet and becoming thin, healthy and running marathons. This task is much more difficult for them than just about any other ethnic group, so if they can do it, then I propose that anyone can. The key is to understand the biochemistry of weight gain, and there is a lot of bunk out there on the subject. MDs used to preach that all diets were fads and that it was a simple matter of eating fewer calories than you expended. We now know that that's not true, and that the situation is much more complicated. I don't want to make this a treatise on the science of weight loss, but I'll just say that the notions of glycemic index and macro-nutrient (carbs, protein and fat) composition play a large role.

Getting heavy is a fact of life as you age. This is true to an extent, since your metabolism slows down and key hormone concentrations (such as testosterone) drop precipitously as you age. But see above - much of this can be controlled with diet and exercise, and helpful nutritional supplementation is hardly voodoo (but it is a complex topic.) With a little research and good advice on the subject, you can mitigate many of the effects. Also, exercise plays a key role in mitigating age-related weight gain.

What's preventing cops from staying fit?

Laziness/complacence. 'Nuff said.

Our unions. Hey, I'm the guy that unionized my agency, so I'm hardly anti-union. But when the unions say that we can't be required to be sprayed if we carry OC, or can't be required to be tased if we carry a TASER, they do us a dis-service. Likewise when they say that physical fitness standards can't be mandatory, they are actually hurting the members who will stay fat and/or unfit and/or otherwise unhealthy.

Our lack of free time. This is the big one, I'm convinced, and it's one that I have tremendous sympathy for. This cause - lack of free time - is intimately tied to the low pay of most police jobs. Cops routinely work forced or otherwise required overtime, and many work overtime by choice just to make a decent yearly wage. If you only worked 8 hours a day or 40 hours a week, you'd have the same time available to you to get to the gym, to shop for healthy food, to go for a run etc., as the normal person. But if you are working two shifts a day, or 4-5 hours of overtime a day, well... there's only so many hours in any day and something's got to give. While not all cops are paid poorly, the fact is that low pay is endemic in our profession. There are many causes for the often low pay of cops; here are three:

  1. It's still regarded as a public works job for which everyone should be eligible - not as a profession.
  2. The lack of unionization, particularly in the South (I have a business management background, so I understand the bad side of unions too (look what they did to the auto industry, for example), but I also appreciate the sometimes necessity of collective bargaining.)
  3. For some reason, society doesn't value the two most important jobs in it - school teachers and public safety personnel - as much as they say they do (I'm excluding any discussion of military pay and benefits here to stay focused on civilian life.)

Now, I can't let this subject of low pay pass without commenting on a related issue that helps to cause it, and that is contractually or legally stipulated outside employment for police officers. For example, my state is one of several that require a police officer to direct traffic when there is construction or other work (such as tree work) that might interfere with the flow of it. Since the rates that are paid for these details are set by the agency that the officer works for, and since the RIAD contractor - not the officer's agency - pays the officer, there is every incentive for the agency to jack the rate up to whatever makes their officers happy. In Massachusetts now, over $40.00/hour is common. Naturally, cops love these after-work details, and for many officers the money from them is a substantial part of their income. In fact, many cops here routinely work 16 hours a day - their assigned shift and an after-work road detail. As you can imagine, this results in tired cops and cops with no time to eat right or to exercise. A similar situation exists in many parts of the country.

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