The conversation went something like this, “I am fed up with officers being out of shape and unfit. I am tired of buying new uniforms because they keep gaining weight. I am really tired of buying new seats in the patrol cars because they are worn out by overweight officers who never get out of the car.”
If any of this sounds familiar, and it does to most of you, then your department or academy already has a problem. Talk to any chief or sheriff, go to any conference or simply scan the media and you will quickly realize that as a profession we are consistently lowering the bar as it pertains to officer fitness and physical ability. Sure we need boots on the street and butts in the seat but at what cost are we willing to replace an officer that is physically capable for one that is a potential liability due to lack of physical capability?
What if we developed a training structure that could initially be taught at the BLET and academy levels? What if those young officers were given simple tools and learned simple techniques to keep them healthy throughout their career? What would happen when these young officers and your department put officer health and wellness first and foremost?
Injury rates would decrease, obesity would be reduced, officer wellness would improve and many of the stress related disorders common in law enforcement would be less of a factor. So let’s look at how this would play out.
Department A is very tradition based; they do things the way they have always done things. Officers come in for roll call and check 10-8 to spend the rest of their shift on patrol and answering calls for service. At the end of the shift the officers go home tired, sore and stiff knowing they will be back at it in 12 hours. This department has no fitness standard and often accepts any candidate that passed the local BLET program.
Department B has adopted a new way of thinking. Prior to roll call each squad goes through 5 minutes of pre-shift range of motion aka “active stretching.” Once 10-8 the officers have been trained and are encouraged to do some simple and tactically safe spot treatment stretches throughout their shift. These officers have also been using therapeutic tools such as foam rollers and massage balls to keep their soft tissue conditioned and loose. At the end of the shift these officers go home tired but they are not sore or stiff and still have energy to play with their kids. This department has a fitness standard, not to be punitive but to keep officers fit to serve and this department works with local BLET programs to ensure the recruit pool is up to the same standards as the department.
By keeping the path, the techniques and the tools simple and proven any department (provided the push and focus from the top is there) can reinvent their culture. By teaming up with the Human Resource department and even the Risk & Safety department, more resources and funding can be brought into play. The final piece of the puzzle is to then adopt a rock solid SOP that will cement the program in place but having a few champions within the department does not hurt either.
The largest challenge is getting the department leadership and command staff on board. As leaders, once they embrace the concept, they’ll lead by example and perform the same physical maintenance routines that they mandate for their officers. It’s not uncommon for “road troops” to complain about having to perform or complete a program that is ignored by the “higher ups,” but if all of the department’s leadership is performing the same program then how can officers complain?
Yes, implementing such a program presents an initial challenge. Your agency may have some officers who are already well out of shape and who will complain about doing something as simple as stretching. Officers assigned to different bureaus within your agency may not attend a “roll call” before going on shift, i.e. detectives, community service, etc. How do you address implementation for those officers? Yes, the department leadership still needs to find a way to implement such a fitness protocol department wide to include those who work in plain clothes. Why? Because none of them started out in plain clothes and they may all one day return to the day-to-day uniform with far too much time spent in a seat, whether it’s in a patrol vehicle or at a desk.
The bottom line is that fitness maintenance and injury prevention will benefit every agency if implemented correctly. The first step, though, is always to convince the command staff. Have you discussed this with yours? Be the champion at your agency and take the concept “up the chain.” You may think they won’t buy into it, but what if you’re wrong?