Police Interview Newsletter - Physical Fitness Matters, Part 2
PHYSICAL FITNESS MATTERS, PART 2
In his article Physical Fitness Training For Police Officers (Law and Order, Vol.49, No.5, June 2001), Sergeant Scott Oldham offers some compelling facts and observations:
Cops do not lead normal lives; no shift is the usual nine to five. It does not matter what division or job responsibility an officer has been assigned, they are all outside what a 'normal' person experiences. As a result of this job related peculiarity, many things that officers enjoyed in their early professional life such as team sports, weight lifting and other fitness related activities, are the first to be sacrificed for time spent doing other things (p.75).
Many officers take their physical condition for granted until it is muchtoo late. Every year more officers die from heart attacks or diseases related to the degradation of the body than all those who die from violent attacks and traffic accidents combined. Even more officers are forced to retire early because of similar conditions (P.75).
Recent studies indicate officers who are in good physical condition are involved in far fewer uses of force than other, less fit officers. Some departments that have seen the benefits physically fit officers bring to the job have begun allowing their officers time on duty to maintain or improve upon that fitness. Many of those that do not provide this time have none the less tried to assist the officers in their fitness goals by providing weight training facilities, cardiovascular training machines and other fitness related equipment (p.77)
Physical training is a pain. There is really no other way to phrase it. If there were a magic pill that one could take to maintain or achieve fitness while laying on the couch it would be a best seller. Short of this magic pill, however, there is no method to achieve fitness other than by working at it (p.77). Ed Sanow, Editorial Director for Law and Order Magazine, adds his perspective:
If you wear a uniform, drive a police car or work the street in any capacity including detective, you need to be in good enough shape to run a city block, climb three flights of stairs, take down someone your own size and drag someone your own weight out of a room. Aren't those all realistic, relevant, job-specific tasks? (Vol. 50, No. 6, June 2002).
Finally, Carrie Rivera (a freelance journalist specializing in law enforcement issues), in her article Physical Fitness for Officers at All Levels, quotes Susan D'Ambrose (Physical instructor for the Monmouth County, N.J. Police Academy) on the dangers of unfit or overweight officers:
One of the dangers is if you have to go on a foot pursuit. First of all, you may never be able to catch up with the suspect you are chasing. Second, if you do catch up with them, you may have a heart attack. Both of these will cause an extremely dangerous situation for your partner. Thirdly, if an officer wishes to move to specialized units, such as the bicycle patrol or K-9 Units, he won't be able to do it. Both units incorporate a high level of physical action and an obese officer will be hindered (Law and Order, Vol. 49, No. 12, October 2001, p. 81).
LawFit® Program - Dr. David L. Bever
Dr. David Bever, a professor of health education at George Mason University has been conducting research and examining issues relating to the health and fitness of public safety personnel for a number of years.
Professor Bever has been specifically concerned with (1) the high numbers of on-the-job injuries and illness in law enforcement agencies and (2) the increase in law suits associated with the use of force by police officers.
Dr. Bever discusses these issues and the challenge to law enforcement agencies to find ways to improve and to insure officer fitness on his web site (http://www.lawfit.gmu.edu). Read the following excerpt from his section entitled Lawfit History:
Although law enforcement activities can be extremely physically demanding from time to time, a majority of the job- related duties of officers can be characterized as sedentary in nature (i.e. vehicle patrol, investigative activity, paper work, public education, courtroom and detention facility monitoring). Such tasks are not conducive to the maintenance of a high level of physical fitness. In fact, the combination of intermittent, sudden, strenuous exertion and a basically sedentary work environment is responsible for a significant number of on-the-job injuries and illnesses in law enforcement.
An additional impetus to examine the health and fitness of public safety personnel has been the increase in litigation concerning officer use of force. The courts have held agencies responsible when officers who were not physically fit utilized lethal weapons in subduing unarmed suspects. In (Parker v. District of Columbia, 1988) the police department was held liable for the wrongful death of an unarmed citizen who was resisting arrest. Considering the officer's lack of fitness and conditioning, the court stated it was apparent that the most effective method the officer had in subduing the suspect was the use of a firearm, instead of the application of physical force. The court further found a deliberate indifference on the part of the police department with respect to adequately maintaining officers' levels of fitness, thus resulting in a foreseeable risk to others.
Unless law enforcement agencies are willing to place sufficient emphasis on developing and maintaining fitness levels which allow their personnel to perform effectively in high-stress situations, they will be faced with on-going disability claims from officers in less than optimal condition who are injured in the line of duty. It has been estimated that a municipality may have to pay as much as $400,000 more for a disability retirement than a normal retirement. Additionally, these agencies will be vulnerable to lawsuits when their less fit personnel are unable to perform their policing duties in a manner that protects the safety and welfare of the general public (p.1).
Dr. Bever designed his LawFit® Program to address the physical fitness needs of all law enforcement officers - rookies and veterans alike. His program focuses on increasing cardiorespiratory efficiency, muscular strength, muscular endurance, lean body mass, and flexibility of officers (p.2).
Professor Bever has developed age and sex norms for excellent, good, average, below average, and poor performance ratings on each of the following tests in his assessment battery:
1. One repetition-maximum bench press
ASK THE EXPERTS
In this regularly appearing column, Dr. Hart and local law enforcement officers will respond to frequently asked questions. Deputy Barry Nichols joins us this month.
Dr. Hart: I understand that you recently completed Dr. David Bever's LawFit® Training at George Mason University. Could you please describe to the readers what you learned and how you are benefiting from the 3-day program?
Deputy Nichols: Certainly, Dr. Hart. As you stated, I just completed the LawFit® Fitness Leadership Program. What I learned was just how important regular exercise can be not only in my personal life (i.e. weight control, management of stress, reduced cardiovascular risk, etc.) but also in my professional life. As we know, law enforcement activities can be demanding on occasion, but a good part of our time can be deemed sedentary. For example, vehicle patrol, paperwork, investigative activity, etc. The battery of tests and exercises that Dr. Bever subjected us to emphasized the need for law enforcement officers to remain in top physical shape.
The point was made clear that law enforcement agencies must be willing to develop fitness programs that will allow their personnel to perform in high stress activities and also limit the amount of worker's compensation and disability claims.
As a Fitness Leader, I am now utilizing what I learned by assisting my department's Basic Training Academy in their PT activities. Because of my hands-on experience with LawFit®, I am able to lead by example and motivate the recruits to prepare themselves physically for life as a law enforcement officer.
Malcolm M. Hart, Ph.D.
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