Ed.Note: This article is the second in a multi-part series that focuses on risk management through improved focus on safety and wellness through strategic leadership initiatives.
Independent risk management studies have shown that foot pursuits are the largest driving force in workers’ compensation losses. This is not only because of the sheer number of injuries sustained but also because of the severity of the injuries.
In recent years, 20 percent of the law enforcement officers feloniously killed in the line of duty were engaged in foot pursuits at the time of their death. Contributing factors included officer complacency, failure to develop an action plan for what to do once the offender is caught, and the inability to recognize that a fleeing suspect may turn threatening at any moment. However, many agencies fail to provide the levels of policy and training guidance needed to reduce risk in this critical area.
Foot pursuits are just one example of police activities that require a significant level of physical fitness. Cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength, and anaerobic power are all required for safe and effective job performance as a law enforcement officer. The time it takes to subdue a combative or resisting subject typically ranges between 30 seconds and two minutes.
For apprehensions or other physical tasks lasting more than two minutes, officers use 75–90 percent of their maximum capability, a requirement many law enforcement personnel are not fit enough to handle. Despite the enormous danger associated with attempting police work without adequate physical fitness, a study by the Cooper Institute showed that law enforcement officers were less fit than the general population regarding aerobic fitness, body fat, and abdominal strength. No study is required to see that the general population is in the worse shape in history.
Physical fitness improves one’s ability to respond properly and can also deter a suspect from attacking. The FBI has conducted a number of in-depth interviews with suspects convicted of murdering or seriously injuring law enforcement officers. The interrogations showed that offenders often sized up their victims prior to determining a course of action. Most articulated that the deciding factor in choosing to attack was whether or not they believed they could win. If the officer appeared “fat” or “sloppy” they saw him as an easy target and capitalized on the situation. If the officer appeared “fit” or “professional,” the suspect hesitated.
Despite data and other logic suggesting the importance of physical fitness in law enforcement, and the benefits of wellness more generally, most law enforcement agencies have no physical fitness standards for their in-service officers, and few even have meaningful programs supporting the goal of physical fitness.
Police officers and agencies pride themselves on their interest in “officer safety.” Unfortunately, that focus is sometimes limited in scope and often centers on preparing officers to fend off physical attacks by armed and unarmed suspects. Policy and training in use of force and high-speed driving are important components of risk management, but attend to only a small fraction of the risk picture. Agencies must strive to create a more generalized culture of safety and create an environment in which injury prevention and physical fitness are priorities.
Sound safety practices should be a condition of employment. Leadership initiatives should promote a generalized safety culture and supervisors at all levels should promptly correct obvious deficiencies in this regard. Minimizing and mitigating injuries can produce many positive effects within an organization. Monetary cost reductions and liability prevention are two of these, but safeguarding employees will produce monumental benefits measured in human terms that vastly transcend financial analysis.
Captain Adrienne Quigley is a 17-year veteran of the Arlington County, Va. Police Department. She has held supervisory positions in patrol, investigations and professional standards, and is a nationally recognized expert in officer safety and injury prevention. She graduated with high honors from The George Washington University and her Master’s Degree in Public Administration is from George Mason University.
Randy Means is a former military officer, former department head at a state law enforcement training center, for nearly 10 years a major city police legal advisor, and for the last 25 years has provided training and consulting services to the law enforcement community nationwide as a partner in The Thomas & Means Law Firm headquartered in Charlotte, N.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.