Foryears some police officers have been subject to stereotypical jokes involvingthem eating donuts, being obese, and just generally out of shape. Sadly, this is not completely made up. As heroic and honorable as the job is, manyofficers tend to get a little lazy after some years. It is without a doubt the individual policeofficers fault. However, the blame mustbe dealt to the actual police department as well.
The majority of departments across thecountry have absolutely no requirement of physical fitness after the initialscreening. This is an epidemic that hasrun ramped throughout police agencies and it can be seen by everydaycitizens. For instance, thestereotypical police officer eating a donut was no accidental, made-up storythat caught on. That is just a joke thatwas made up regarding a problem in Americas police agencies which has not beendealt with at all over the past 20-30 years. It is important to note that some departments do try and combat thisproblem, however, there are only a handful and the trend isn’t catching on tothe majority. This problem is notextremely complex, but it does have several levels in order for a successfulchange to take place.
Part of theselevels include more than just the agencies. If a solution is going to be put forward, the city and budget committeesare going to have to come together and create capital space that thedepartments can use towards a program. This would be difficult, yes, but the benefits that could arise if acomprehensive program was in place would be tremendous. There is no doubt being a policeofficer is difficult and stressful. There are long shifts, mobile working spaces, and odd working hours.These working conditions are the equation for a person to get out of shape andgain weight. Officers eat wherever theycan, healthy or not, and are tired from work which makes them not want to workout.
Add onto all that, and you have noactual requirements or tests set by the department to maintain a certain levelof physical fitness. After the screeningprocess, the officers are in charge of staying fit on their own. Once this is all laid out, it is simple tosee why so many police officers don’t stay fit throughout their career. There have been several studies done thatprove just how serious this problem is.
According to a study conducted by the American Journal of PreventiveMedicine, nearly 41% of police officers, firefighters and security guards areobese in America (Loux, 2017). Thismeans that 4 out of every ten cops have a BMI of over 30 which classifies themas obese. Similarly, a study conductedby the FBI found that 80% of police officers are overweight (Owens, 2014). Now, this study states the officers asoverweight, which isn’t as bad as obese obviously. However, overweight still means the officersare not in shape. These statistics arestaggering and really help pave the way to understand the severity of thisepidemic. The fitness of police officers is ofthe utmost importance for several reasons. First, there have been many different studies conducted that illustratedheart disease as a leader in cause of death for cops.
Heart disease passed line of dutydeaths. These studies come from avariety of occupational health journals which have published researchdisplaying the heightened risk factors associated with police officers. Some of these risk factors include obesity,smoking, physical stress, hypertension, etc. (Johnson, 2013).
The reason why fitness is so important forpolice officers can be seen through those risk factors. Physical fitness helps lower high blood pressure,it helps a person lose weight, and it is an effective way to deal with stresshealthily. It also includes thefollowing benefits: A reduction to days lost due to sick time, improvement inmorale, improvements in productivity, and improvements in job satisfaction(Volanti, 1986). Second, fitness of apolice officer is not only in the interests of the officers themselves, butalso in the interests of the department.
Studies have shown that officers in shape have numerous characteristicsthat prove beneficial to the department, compared to those that aren’t. Forexample, The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) worked withthe Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and compiled data findings to create acomprehensive report on how to reduce officer injuries. In this report there were several tablesrelating to officer health and fitness. One of these tables compared officer weight and was broken down into 4main categories: Healthy, overweight,obese and morbidly obese. The dataillustrated that as officers went from healthy to overweight, the averagenumber of days they missed work increased about 100%. As the office weight changed from overweightto obese, the average number of days missed increased about 140%, bringing thenumber to 9.
89 days. These numberscorrelate directly to the department losing money because every day that anofficer misses work is a day that the department is paying them. This IACP study also displayed a more than200% increase in the average number of days for rehabilitation when policeofficers weight changed from overweight to obese. Although the numbers are eye opening, thegood news is that there is a way to fix this problem. The underlying problem to all thesestatistics resides in the fact that police officers are not required by anymeans to maintain a certain level of physical fitness. The duties of a police officer require thatthe officer be in able physical condition to perform the task at hand, however,since this is not a disciplined subject of most departments, the possibleeffects could be detrimental. Not onlyto the police officer, but also to the citizens of the community, fellow policeofficers, and the department themselves. As eye opening as these statisticsare, there is still little being done to reverse the issue.
You would think that departments and citieswould want to fix the problem, however, very few departments have implementedpolicy. Going back to the articlewritten by Owens, Garland P.D. has tried some solutions to deal with theoverweight problem. The GarlandAssistant Chief, Jeff Bryan, sees the benefits of working out as a great stressreliever and a way to increase the average lifespan of officers.
That is completely true and great reason toimplement policy towards physical fitness standards. They have implemented some ideas in the department. One of these solutions is to make a fitnessfriendly attitude throughout the dept., this way officers will feel compelledto work out. Another solution is toprovide the officers with fitness centers where they could work out free ofcharge (Owens, 2014). Are thesesolutions completely successful? No, butat least they get the ball rolling in the right direction. The fact of the matter is, many of theofficers that are working long shifts at weird hours are not going to feelmotivated to go workout. It should beclear that a physically fit police department has countless benefits that couldsave the department tons of money in the long run.
However, the key words that stick out to theheads of departments are “long run.” Nobody wants to take dish out the money upfront if they may not see areturn on investment till 5 or 10 years from the time they started theprogram. Although, the return oninvestment could be quite worth it, monetarily speaking. According to FitForce’s Smith, Return on Investment is estimated on average to be$3.14/$1.00 invested in an employee-centered program, though some industryestimates go up as high as $8-$9/$1 invested.
One department employed voluntaryhealth screens and identified five officers with risk so high they were sentimmediately to their primary care physicians. Statistically, the likelihood wasvery high that two to three of those five were due to coronary heartdisease–related risk. Since the estimated cost of an in-service heart attack isover $500,000, that agency and those officers dodged some scary bullets(Strandberg, 2014).
Thosenumbers, if counted for every officer in a department, could prove for somesubstantial gains in capital. Some departments have taken the leap of faith andimplemented real, successful policy. Oneof these departments is Brentwood P.D., where Sgt. Nick Surre has put togethera comprehensive biannual physical assessment for their officers (Strandberg,2014). His test is not mandatory;however, it is incentivized and upon passing, the officer will receive amonetary bonus.
This is a great approachto tackling the problem. It has clearlybeen thought through and is successful based on the data. “We have seen a steady increase in officerspassing the assessment”, says Surre (Strandberg, 2014).
There should be a clear solution to tacklethis problem in police departments. Nevertheless, the way you find that solution is by departmentsimplementing different policies and gathering data over years. Then, researchers could compile the data andcompare it to find which solution is the most applicable and efficient. Until this is done, we will not see much of achange in the average life expectancy of police officers, as well as, the staggeringnumber of officers that are too unfit for duty. In short, it should be of the utmostimportance for departments to get onboard with new policy regarding themaintained physical fitness levels of police officers. Right now, it is very rare for a policedepartment to have fitness screening after the cop has already passed theinitial tests to be accepted. Theproblems reside, just like so many times before, with money.
Cities and departments don’t want to investthe money into new programs when their return on investment may not be seen foranother five to ten years. However, itis not too late for departments to start implementing policies and collectingthe data from those policies. This waythe benefits will be observed by other departments across the country and atrend will start. Hopefully, actions aremade quickly so we can start reversing the eye-opening statistics that we havebecome so accustomed to.