Last updated: August 21, 2019
Topic: HealthDisease
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years some police officers have been subject to stereotypical jokes involving
them 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, many
officers tend to get a little lazy after some years.  It is without a doubt the individual police
officers fault.  However, the blame must
be dealt to the actual police department as well.  The majority of departments across the
country have absolutely no requirement of physical fitness after the initial
screening.  This is an epidemic that has
run ramped throughout police agencies and it can be seen by everyday
citizens.  For instance, the
stereotypical police officer eating a donut was no accidental, made-up story
that caught on.  That is just a joke that
was made up regarding a problem in Americas police agencies which has not been
dealt with at all over the past 20-30 years.  
It is important to note that some departments do try and combat this
problem, however, there are only a handful and the trend isn’t catching on to
the majority.  This problem is not
extremely complex, but it does have several levels in order for a successful
change to take place.  Part of these
levels include more than just the agencies. 
If a solution is going to be put forward, the city and budget committees
are going to have to come together and create capital space that the
departments can use towards a program. 
This would be difficult, yes, but the benefits that could arise if a
comprehensive program was in place would be tremendous. 

            There is no doubt being a police
officer 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 and
gain weight.  Officers eat wherever they
can, healthy or not, and are tired from work which makes them not want to work
out.   Add onto all that, and you have no
actual requirements or tests set by the department to maintain a certain level
of physical fitness.  After the screening
process, the officers are in charge of staying fit on their own.  Once this is all laid out, it is simple to
see why so many police officers don’t stay fit throughout their career.  There have been several studies done that
prove just how serious this problem is. 
According to a study conducted by the American Journal of Preventive
Medicine, nearly 41% of police officers, firefighters and security guards are
obese in America (Loux, 2017).  This
means that 4 out of every ten cops have a BMI of over 30 which classifies them
as obese.  Similarly, a study conducted
by the FBI found that 80% of police officers are overweight (Owens, 2014).  Now, this study states the officers as
overweight, which isn’t as bad as obese obviously.  However, overweight still means the officers
are not in shape.  These statistics are
staggering and really help pave the way to understand the severity of this

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            The fitness of police officers is of
the utmost importance for several reasons. 
First, there have been many different studies conducted that illustrated
heart disease as a leader in cause of death for cops.  Heart disease passed line of duty
deaths.  These studies come from a
variety of occupational health journals which have published research
displaying 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 for
police 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 stress
healthily.  It also includes the
following benefits: A reduction to days lost due to sick time, improvement in
morale, improvements in productivity, and improvements in job satisfaction
(Volanti, 1986).  Second, fitness of a
police officer is not only in the interests of the officers themselves, but
also in the interests of the department. 
Studies have shown that officers in shape have numerous characteristics
that prove beneficial to the department, compared to those that aren’t. For
example, The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) worked with
the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and compiled data findings to create a
comprehensive report on how to reduce officer injuries.  In this report there were several tables
relating to officer health and fitness. 
One of these tables compared officer weight and was broken down into 4
main categories:  Healthy, overweight,
obese and morbidly obese.  The data
illustrated that as officers went from healthy to overweight, the average
number of days they missed work increased about 100%.  As the office weight changed from overweight
to obese, the average number of days missed increased about 140%, bringing the
number to 9.89 days.  These numbers
correlate directly to the department losing money because every day that an
officer misses work is a day that the department is paying them.  This IACP study also displayed a more than
200% increase in the average number of days for rehabilitation when police
officers weight changed from overweight to obese.  Although the numbers are eye opening, the
good news is that there is a way to fix this problem.  The underlying problem to all these
statistics resides in the fact that police officers are not required by any
means to maintain a certain level of physical fitness.  The duties of a police officer require that
the officer be in able physical condition to perform the task at hand, however,
since this is not a disciplined subject of most departments, the possible
effects could be detrimental.  Not only
to the police officer, but also to the citizens of the community, fellow police
officers, and the department themselves.

            As eye opening as these statistics
are, there is still little being done to reverse the issue.   You would think that departments and cities
would want to fix the problem, however, very few departments have implemented
policy.  Going back to the article
written by Owens, Garland P.D. has tried some solutions to deal with the
overweight problem.  The Garland
Assistant Chief, Jeff Bryan, sees the benefits of working out as a great stress
reliever and a way to increase the average lifespan of officers.  That is completely true and great reason to
implement policy towards physical fitness standards.  They have implemented some ideas in the department.  One of these solutions is to make a fitness
friendly attitude throughout the dept., this way officers will feel compelled
to work out.  Another solution is to
provide the officers with fitness centers where they could work out free of
charge (Owens, 2014).  Are these
solutions completely successful?  No, but
at least they get the ball rolling in the right direction.  The fact of the matter is, many of the
officers that are working long shifts at weird hours are not going to feel
motivated to go workout.  It should be
clear that a physically fit police department has countless benefits that could
save the department tons of money in the long run.  However, the key words that stick out to the
heads of departments are “long run.” 
Nobody wants to take dish out the money upfront if they may not see a
return on investment till 5 or 10 years from the time they started the
program.  Although, the return on
investment 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 industry
estimates go up as high as $8-$9/$1 invested. One department employed voluntary
health screens and identified five officers with risk so high they were sent
immediately to their primary care physicians. Statistically, the likelihood was
very high that two to three of those five were due to coronary heart
disease–related risk. Since the estimated cost of an in-service heart attack is
over $500,000, that agency and those officers dodged some scary bullets
(Strandberg, 2014).

numbers, if counted for every officer in a department, could prove for some
substantial gains in capital. Some departments have taken the leap of faith and
implemented real, successful policy.  One
of these departments is Brentwood P.D., where Sgt. Nick Surre has put together
a 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 a
monetary bonus.  This is a great approach
to tackling the problem.  It has clearly
been thought through and is successful based on the data.  “We have seen a steady increase in officers
passing the assessment”, says Surre (Strandberg, 2014).  There should be a clear solution to tackle
this problem in police departments. 
Nevertheless, the way you find that solution is by departments
implementing different policies and gathering data over years.  Then, researchers could compile the data and
compare it to find which solution is the most applicable and efficient.  Until this is done, we will not see much of a
change in the average life expectancy of police officers, as well as, the staggering
number of officers that are too unfit for duty. 

            In short, it should be of the utmost
importance for departments to get onboard with new policy regarding the
maintained physical fitness levels of police officers.  Right now, it is very rare for a police
department to have fitness screening after the cop has already passed the
initial tests to be accepted.  The
problems reside, just like so many times before, with money.  Cities and departments don’t want to invest
the money into new programs when their return on investment may not be seen for
another five to ten years.  However, it
is not too late for departments to start implementing policies and collecting
the data from those policies.  This way
the benefits will be observed by other departments across the country and a
trend will start.  Hopefully, actions are
made quickly so we can start reversing the eye-opening statistics that we have
become so accustomed to.