Gainer Planning Fitness Standards for Officers

Posted March 25, 2003 at 3:28pm

Capitol Police officials are contemplating the creation of a physical fitness program for officers.

A proposal for a fitness program is in the preliminary stages, according to Capitol Police spokeswoman Jessica Gissubel, and the department has hired a private company to study the force and evaluate what fitness requirements would be most appropriate.

“It’s become a concern to us to make sure that everybody is physically able,” Gissubel said.

A physical fitness test would meet two goals: promoting health and fitness among officers, as well as providing them with a diagnostic assessment of their cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance.

Currently, the department only requires officers to pass a fitness test while in training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga. The test includes five major components: a 1.5-mile run/walk; a 180-foot agility run involving sprints, stops and obstacles; bench pressing to evaluate strength; a flexibility test; and a body fat measurement.

After graduating, officers are required to pass periodic tests for firearms training, but there are no subsequent tests for fitness.

Mike DeCarlo, head of the Capitol Police Labor Committee, acknowledged the union has participated in preliminary discussions about a fitness program with Chief Terrance Gainer.

One possibility, DeCarlo said, includes the creation of a voluntary program that would eventually evolve into a mandatory requirement with periodic retesting.

“As an overall perspective, getting in shape and making sure that our guys are … healthy and physically fit, I think that’s an excellent thing. I don’t see how we can say otherwise,” DeCarlo said.

During his tenure as deputy director of the Illinois State Police, Gainer helped to institute a program that included staff nutritionists.

“Be more physically fit, but you give people opportunities to do that. You have to have test standards, you have to have a nutritionist on board,” Gainer said in an interview last fall.

If the department were to create a mandatory program, it would need to be approved by the labor committee, DeCarlo said. In the case of a voluntary program, he added, the group would likely review it.

While the union will wait until a formal proposal is introduced to declare its support or opposition for the program, DeCarlo said, the creation of a fitness program is not a commentary on the physical health of officers.

“The job is so much more demanding that it requires some type of physical fitness to perform the job,” DeCarlo said. “We want to make sure that we have the best and that our guys are able and ready to respond to whatever they need to respond to.”

Some federal law-enforcement agencies, such as the U.S Park Police, already have fitness mandates in place.

Twice each year, Park Police officers must pass a test with a regimen similar to that given at FLETC. “We’d like people to be as fit or better than when they came on the job,” said Park Police Lt. Jon Pierce.

Most of those officers score 90 percent or better on that test, far exceeding the standards required to pass (70 percent or more, evaluated on a sliding scale adjusted for age and gender).

If an officer fails the test, Pierce said, the department may recommend a fitness program.

Many police departments are turning to voluntary programs that provide officers with incentives for meeting particular goals, said Metropolitan Police Assistant Chief Shannon Cockett, who heads that department’s training program.

“I think a lot of progressive police departments are looking at that because of course the surgeon general has just issued this report saying [obesity] is the number one killer. … It’s certainly something that challenges both police and fire department personnel,” she said.

MPD recruits are graded on the number of sit-ups and push-ups they can complete in a one-minute period, as well as a 1.5 mile run. Like the FLETC tests, recruits are judged on a scaled pegged to their age and gender.

“We do try to get our recruits in the best possible shape we can get them in but then once they get out there on the force there’s nothing in place to ensure that they continue to meet a certain level of physical fitness,” Cockett said.

While MPD is prohibited from instituting fitness standards through its agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police, the department’s physical skills unit recently proposed guidelines for a physical fitness award program, which officers could pursue on a voluntary basis.

Although the Government Printing Office does not have recruits complete any specific fitness tests, potential officers are required to undergo a physical examination, including an electrocardiogram, tuberculosis and immunization screening, and pulmonary function test. The agency employs a force of about 50 officers.

The Library of Congress requires those seeking to qualify for duty on its force to pass a standard physical examination, which includes an endurance and flexibility test.

Components include a 20-second run up four flights of steps in full uniform and a test in which officers must lift a 45-pound free weight from the floor to waist level, then to shoulder level, and carry the weight a distance of 50 feet before returning it to its starting point.

Library spokeswoman Helen Dalrymple said officers must repeat the physical exam every three years. The Library is authorized to have up to 132 officers.