The Need for Physical Fitness

By Collingwood, Thomas; Hoffman, Robert J. et al. | Law & Order, June 2003 | Go to article overview

The Need for Physical Fitness


Collingwood, Thomas, Hoffman, Robert J., Smith, Jay, Law & Order


The images are burned into our memories: Hundreds of New York/New Jersey Port Authority Police, New York City Police and Fire Department of New York Officers performing heroic tasks. Carrying people out of the towers, assisting the injured and eventually running for their lives when the collapse of the buildings began. Not one of those officers woke up on September 11, 2001, thinking that today would be the day he would be called on to exhibit levels of fitness beyond anything most of them had ever previously needed on the job.

Many administrators appear to misunderstand the concepts of job relatedness and test validity, and misinterpret the legal issues surrounding the use of fitness standards. Most disturbingly, in recent years a trend toward overt disregard for physical performance at the expense of other agendas such as inclusiveness has been noticed. This trend is based on an assumption that physical fitness is not important for modern police work.

Inclusion-Based Agenda

There has always been a general consensus that law enforcement officers require some level of physical fitness to meet the infrequent but perhaps critical demands of their job. Physical fitness is not the most important characteristic or trait for law enforcement officers to possess, however, the growing misperception that physical fitness is unnecessary should cause concern.

Recent articles suggesting that since there are few frequent physical demands in law enforcement, physical fitness standards are neither necessary nor desirable since they tend to show disparate impact against females. Feedback from law enforcement academy administrators across the country indicates that it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract qualified candidates.

To some extent, the base issues are all legitimate concerns. A need exists to expand opportunities for females in law enforcement; however, it should not be at the expense of reduced job-related performance requirements in fitness or any other essential area.

The approach some administrators are taking to meet the challenge of lower quality applicants is to lower the fitness standard. There have been instances in which the stated objective of fitness selection tests is to ensure diversity, rather than predict who can do the job. In others, the unspoken intent is to avoid disparate impact against females.

Agencies invest significant amounts of money to validate fitness tests and standards using scientific procedures and then they choose to disregard the results. Those agencies often opt to apply standards that are not job related, are not predictive and do not meet the legal requirements for validity. Adding to the frustration of academy instructors is a further lowering of physical training demands because of administrative pressure to graduate numbers.

Basing selection standards decisions on political and social agendas sacrifices the integrity of officer selection and ultimately the ethics of officer professionalism. It is irresponsible to make concessions to notions such as diversity at the expense of job performance.

The priority issue from a physical performance perspective is to ensure that incumbents are physically prepared to perform the essential strenuous physical tasks of the job. To be valid, standards must be job related and consistent with business necessity.

If the prevailing train of thought with regard to firearms were followed, agencies would eliminate qualifications and standards. After all, an officer is far less likely to fire his weapon in the line of duty than he is to perform a critical task requiring some level of physical fitness. If citizens were aware of lowered firearm standards to accommodate diversity there would be a public outcry. By the way, keep this article close: don't let the citizenry learn about the lack of physical fitness standards. They are not sure how some of officers meet those standards, but they are confident that those sworn to serve and protect are being held accountable to have reasonable assurance to handle their emergency, when and if it happens.

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