Pigs? Maybe...

Back in the 60s and 70s a pejorative term for police officers was pig. Hippies and gangs used it frequently when referring to us. Eventually the term became less offensive and fell out of favor, although we still see it used occasionally in cartoons, particularly, depicting a pig in a cop uniform stopping at a donut shop.

Let's face it: pigs are bred to eat. We fatten them as much as possible; while they're alive all they do is eat and lie around gaining weight. Unfortunately, there may be some comparisons between the barnyard animal and today's police applicant.

In Mississippi, The Clarion Ledger reported that the Jackson Police Department is trying to hire more cops, but they're having a difficult time finding applicants who can meet the standards. It's not just that people are having a tough time passing the written exam, indeed, over two-thirds fail the test, but they also can't find people who can meet the physical requirements. According to Deputy Police Chief Gerald Jones, a significant percentage is turned away because they are out of shape. Over a third of the most recent group tested were unable to pass the initial PT test, which consists of pushups, a mile and a half run, obstacle course, and flexibility test.

Sadly, this phenomenon is not unique to Jackson, although Mississippi has the highest obesity rate in the country. It's a nation-wide problem. Captain Michelle Veenstra of the LAPD's Training Division, said twenty percent of their recruits fail the initial fitness test. Rather than discarding them, they enlist them in a special program, directing their workouts and educating them about nutrition and the importance of fitness. A similar approach is taken by the FBI in their initial testing. When they've identified applicants likely to attend new agent training, they are tested in the field to see if they'll be able to pass the first PT test at Quantico's FBI Academy. If they're found lacking in a certain dimension, such as cardio or strength, they are given specific exercises to correct the deficiency. Yet even after the one-on-one attention, some trainees continue to report for training, unable to pass with a minimum score.

This boggles my mind. I can't imagine applying for a job that you know requires you be in probably the best shape of your life. How can people report for training, overweight and out of shape? In my estimation it defines one's character and work ethic, and it's a reflection of society, in that we frown on strict requirements and want everyone to be a winner - medals and trophies to all. Heaven forbid we should turn someone away simply because they can't run a mile and a half. After all, they're entitled to that job. In a study conducted by researchers at Harvard and Boston Universities, and the Cambridge Health Alliance, it was found that 77% of fire and EMT trainees in Massachusetts were overweight or obese. The lead author, Tony Tsismenakis, said the percentage is probably even higher, since the research did not include applicants who were disqualified for fitness.

Professor Stefanos Kales, Harvard School of Public Health, participated in the same study. He noted that, "No national studies on recruits exists, but in localized studies researchers consistently find that among police and firefighters, generally three-quarters are overweight, and that includes one-third that are obese." He paints a bleak picture about the future, saying, "...over the years, some departments have lowered physical strength standards to avoid discrimination lawsuits. In combination with a less-fit pool, that will end up allowing more obese recruits to successfully join these services."

According to APP.com, in Lawton, Oklahoma, Chief Ronald Smith said about 15% of applicants this spring failed an initial agility test, including pushups and a quarter-mile run. He added, "Used to be nearly 100% passed the agility test." In Jefferson City, Missouri, Captain Doug Shoemaker said, "A noticeable number of people failed the physical exam in the two most recent tests."

How do we fix the problem? Some think there's an education-based solution. According to a report in USA Today, Texas Christian University kinesiology professor Deborah Rhea, blames it on cuts in school PE programs. She said PE classes are necessary as part of the curriculum. "You've got to educate them (about) why they need to be active." I agree with that premise - too much technology and not enough exercise and intramural activities. The PC-types have outlawed dodge ball, tag, touch-football, and just about anything else that requires running and agility. No wonder we have young adults who can't lift their own body weight. Not only do schools enforce zero-tolerance for guns and drugs, it seems the same applies for any activity in which the students must exert themselves. Playgrounds are an anachronism.

I don't think the solution can be found in lowering the bar any more than it already is - it's just about resting on the ground already. Having been a part of a system that tested and trained new agents, I think it's imperative that standards be maintained and met, without regard to who one may know, gender, race, or any other red herring one may want to throw into the mix. Either you pass or you fail. Simple. The requirements are plainly spelled out for all to read and comprehend before an application is completed. PT standards are not kept secret, nor are they fluid, that's why they call them standards.

I suggest we all face reality: our nation is becoming soft and weak. The reason: no backbone. The solution: don't abdicate your responsibility, either as an administrator, a cop, or an applicant for the job. Being fit may one day save your life or mine. By the way, there are many proponents who favor lowering standards and eliminating physical testing altogether - convicts - it makes their job a whole lot easier.

Stay safe, brothers and sisters!