Police work is one of the few professions in which fitness is a key component in determining success. Yet very few California police departments have fitness requirements for their cops. This lack of monitoring allows once-athletic members of the force to let themselves go, which could negatively impact the quality of the work they do.
While most rookies are fit when they start off, there is no guarantee that they will stay that way. According to the Contra Costa Times, a January study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on obesity vs. profession revealed that police officers and firefighters were ranked the third-most hefty, after truck drivers and movers.
In a stunning change from the way cops used to protect citizens, police officers are seen as relying increasingly on weapons, technology, and vehicles instead of the actual physical labor they traditionally employed. This poses a danger to the public and places citizens at risk when situations arise such as those described by a 25-year Oakland Police Department veteran. Lieutenant Ray Backman said, “I’ve been on foot chases that have gone for multiple blocks, and you’re wearing 25-30 pounds of equipment.”
Increased costs and a growing number of worker’s compensation claims resulted in the abolition of a biannual fitness test at the Los Angeles Police Department, as well as the California Highway Patrol, in 1995. However, not all agencies are as lax with their officers’ fitness levels.
San Francisco, Union City, and San Jose police departments offer incentives for cops who maintain good fitness. In Union City, police officers are mandated to take quarterly defense tactics training refresher courses and are offered free gym memberships. In San Francisco, mandatory fitness testing is conducted twice a year, and police who pass are rewarded with 20 hours of additional vacation time, the Times notes. San Jose is actively trying to implement a wellness program and encourages their officers to use the gyms at police headquarters.
“In the end, unless the state requires a mandatory fitness test, it’s up to each person individually to decide where they need to be” physically, said Zack Hoyer, a homicide detective in Hayward. According to the Times, Hoyer said, “You don’t have to tell people they’re fat… they look in the mirror… they know.”