Wellness: A New Trend in Fitness Standards

By Sharp, Art | Law & Order, February 2003 | Go to article overview
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Wellness: A New Trend in Fitness Standards

Sharp, Art, Law & Order

The Duluth, GA, Police Department's Wellness Program, typifies a new trend in law enforcement applications: a move away front mandatory physical fitness standards (MPFS) for law enforcement personnel to an emphasis on health and wellness.

"Each participant will benefit from this training, both personally and professionally. Participants should set personal goals to become the very best officer they can. With commitment, participation. and training, these goals can be achieved."

The trend is being influenced by outside entities, such as the Cooper Institute and CALEA. and is placing much of the responsibility for health and wellness on individual officers.

A recent poll conducted among 32 law enforcement agencies of various sizes and jurisdictions revealed that MPFS are a concern, but they do not take a high priority even though 93% of the respondents said there should be mandatory standards for at least some department members. Only four percent of the respondents said there should not be. Just 37% of them actually have in-service standards in place, and only 30% of those standards are mandatory.

Several reasons exist for the lack of in-service standards, mandatory or otherwise. Not surprisingly, the principal reason is lack of funds. Thirty-one percent of the departments that do not have MPFS cited costs as a factor. Another 23% reported that union rules prohibit them. The same percentage said they do not have anyone to monitor physical fitness standards or programs. The other reasons mentioned most often were lack of time for officers to work out (seven percent) and legal issues (15%). Several respondents focused on a combination.

Chief Doreen E. Elko, Auburn Hills, MI, reported that the issue of MPFS in her department, "Needs a thorough study and the union needs to sign on. We have never had the time or staff to study it adequately." Similarly, Chief Loris A. Jaeger, Ames, IA, noted, "It has not been brought up at collective bargaining, although it may be in the future."

Deputy Chief Randy Henson, Austell, GA, said simply, "Such standards are against the city attorney's recommendation." That suggests a major factor in establishing MPFS today: the significance of legal questions, which is expressed well in the Florissant, MO, Police Department's General Order 2-13, Health and Wellness. The order states:

"The Department has a legal responsibility and management obligation to ensure a safe work environment, as well as a paramount interest in protecting the public by ensuring that its employees have the physical stamina and emotional stability to perform their duties. Both the Department and its employees are exposed to liability if the Department fails to ensure that its employees are able to perform their duties without endangering themselves or the public."

The goal for LEA administrators today is to balance legal ramifications with health and wellness issues-- without subjecting officers to mandatory requirements. That leads to a debate over the exact definition of physical fitness.

One of the more salient aspects of the legal arguments is tied in with definitions. As Lt. Rex Olson, of the Spokane, WA, Police Department asked, "What level is fit enough?" And who decides? He also cited two other legal issues to be considered: defensive job applicable standards and compensation resulting from time spent for job requirements. Another question that LEA administrators raised had to do with the definition of physical standards.

Major D. L. Woodruff, Duluth, GA, Police Department, addressed that issue. "You must first determine what a physical fitness standard is," he said. "Is it the ability to do sit-ups in two minutes? Or is it the ability to climb stairs?" Woodruff also pointed to regulations affecting MPFS.

"The ADA, ADEA, and many federal laws apply, depending on the standards used," he stated. "Construct v. content validity is the question you have to ask first.

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