You have graduated from your academy, made it through field training and become tenured in your department after a year of service has passed. You are now a police officer — ready to serve your community, follow the motto “to protect and serve” and do it with pride. But can you really say you are a professional and are ready to do your job to the utmost of your ability?
The hours we work, the stress we endure and the constant change in sleep cycles all take a toll on our physical and mental health. We cannot prevent our body from breaking down or getting a disease that may limit our mobility, but we can adjust to the ills and aches our body will go through as we age. This is why keeping yourself fit should be as much a part of your daily or weekly routine as making breakfast, going out and about or using the restroom. Keeping yourself fit does not necessarily mean you have to use weights. You can do calisthenics using your body weight or pursue a sport like basketball, wrestling or boxing. The point is that in both your personal and professional life, you need to be fit enough to handle the rigors and stress you will encounter.
A prime example of the importance of being fit on the job is Parker v. District of Columbia, 850 F.2d 708 (271 U.S.App.D.C.15. 1988). This case should be a must read for every chief, sheriff and member of the senior command, since it deals with a department’s duty to ensure all officers receive proper training that is periodically reinforced to mitigate diminishing explicit or tacit skills. The liability issues in this case cannot be understated. When a police officer with a stellar record attempted to arrest Parker and was met with resistance, he shot Parker. The court held that if the officer had been physically fit, he would not have had to use his service weapon and could have subdued Parker. Records showed that the officer was obese and had not had training in over four years.
To emphasize the effects on our health when a fitness regimen is not maintained, Ramey et al. (2009) found a greater risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in retired law enforcement officers compared to the general population. Violanti et al. (2013) supported this finding and found CVD was prevalent in 70% of the retired LEO population, more than in the general population. This should be cause for concern, since LEOs spend a majority of their time being sedentary, which is a major contributor to CVD. Marin et al. (2019) state, “Police activity is considered of great risk because it is marked by hazardous situations that are stressful and physically demanding. Thus, professionals need effectiveness and accuracy in the execution of tasks and different physical abilities (such as muscle strength and endurance, cardiorespiratory fitness, power, speed, and agility). It highlights the importance of police officers being in a good physical condition to perform their competencies because poor motor fitness limits performance, endangering individual and collective safety.”
These statements are supported by several case studies conducted over the years. In fact, Thomas (2011) reports on a previous study conducted by Downy and Roth (1981). The data collected found that from the time we graduate our academy, an LEO will age 15 years, gain 41 pounds and add five inches to their waist during a 15-year tenure while they continue to confront suspects who, on average, are male, 24 years old and 170 pounds, have a 31-inch waist and are in decent physical shape. Also, let’s not forget the physical training prisoners perform while incarcerated, some of which is specifically designed to overcome an LEO. Without constant physical training, suspects can resist LEOs sufficiently to cause an incident, which could result in the public outcry we see today.
LEOs must also think of what happens when their career ends. Most LEOs will retire in their 40s and still have 20-plus years of work left in them. And what about when you are completely retired? Will you be fit enough to protect yourself or your family if a person 30-plus years younger threatens you? Will you be healthy enough to enjoy those vacations and trips you and your spouse have planned for?
The bottom line is you have to want to be physically fit and stay physically fit, because no one is going to convince you to live a lifestyle contrary to what you already like. Your future at work and the rest of your life is always in your hands, so what future do you see? What future do you want? The choice is yours.
Steve Foldy (B.S., M.S.) is a retired U.S. Army military policeman and chief of police with over 30 years of police experience, including building and training an SRT team, FTO, traffic management and investigations, criminal investigations, building and activating a police department, writing and accrediting advanced-level LE courses, being a master fitness trainer and more. He is currently a trainer and consultant to law enforcement agencies in New Mexico. Steve welcomes your calls at (575) 635-8186 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.