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Physical Fitness Tests and Performance Standards, Part 3

Ed. Note: This is the third part of a three-part series on police physical fitness standards.

The characteristics of agency physical fitness programs that have proven successful include: committed leadership; expert legal advice; trained leaders; screening for safe participation; goal-setting; ongoing assessments (testing of current fitness levels); ongoing fitness education; and exercise programming for those needing improvement.

Even given straightforward evidence that in some of its most critical moments police work requires some physical fitness, there are those who will continue to do nothing in this important area. For those who would like to move forward and get a program going, following are some options and related considerations. Within logical bounds, some of these options may be mixed and matched.

Purely Voluntary Program

This type of program usually involves some type of incentive to participate and attain certain goals. Without incentives, only those already training will participate. Even with incentives, goals may be viewed as unattainable by the least fit officers—the ones who need a program the most. Consider this legal point: This type of program usually produces no legal ramifications.

Required Participation

The type of program that requires participation in testing ensures that everyone gets tested and allows you to discover if there are problems in your officers’ health overall—problems that could be detrimental to their safety at work. This will allow you to offer suggestions to out-of-shape officers on how they can improve their physical fitness. However, there is no guarantee that everyone will improve their fitness to even the minimum requirement. People will take the required test but will not change their ways. Also, with required participation you face the chance someone will get hurt and be required to get workers compensation.

The legal point for this route is that some officers may challenge the requirement of participation in testing, but as long as the testing is clearly job related, your department can legally overcome such a challenge. The greater liability risk is that we will identify those who cannot safely and effectively do the job and then leave them in service without fixing the problem.

Required Testing and Regimen

The type of program that has required participation in testing (without specific standards) along with a workout regimen requires that everyone get involved. Getting everyone to be physically active is a good start. It also provides test feedback and allows correspondingly targeted fitness prescriptions designed to minimize deficiencies, but it does not guarantee that deficiencies will be eliminated.

Also, you will have to pay people for their workout time, and injuries incurred during testing will be considered on-the-job injuries, requiring application of workers compensation benefits. However, improvements in fitness caused by participation in exercise will reduce other costs, creating net improvements financially. Morale will likely be boosted as everyone, including supervisors at all levels, works together toward common goals.

The legal points: The same legal points from the previous option apply here, but with one added risk due to the requirement of exercise. Still, the job relatedness of the program allows us to overcome such challenges. Improvements in fitness caused by exercise participation will cause more officers to work more safely and effectively, thus reducing physical and liability risks associated with poor performance or non-performance.

Mandatory Compliance with Standards

The next type of program is one that has mandatory participation in testing and compliance along with standards (with or without required participation in exercise regimens). Only the threat of sanctions for non-compliance will inspire all of our least fit officers to train sufficiently to attain and maintain required levels of fitness. This is the unvarnished reality, discovered by decades of experience with hundreds of programs. Costs associated with participation in testing and exercise are similar to what was previously stated, but net cost reductions, including those associated with disability retirements, will be the result of improved fitness.

The legal points: This type of program involves the possibility that someone could eventually be fired for not meeting the department’s fitness standards therefore it contains the most risk of all the options regarding being legally challenged. Nonetheless, if the standards are properly identified and implemented, such programs are definitely legally defensible. Improved fitness will also reduce the type and level of force applications. Involvements which should be “scuffles” are less likely to turn into shootings.

Doing something is so much better than doing nothing in this vital area of personnel administration. With the benefit of expert legal and scientific guidance, it is easily possible to create and implement legally defensible and otherwise successful programs and standards. Doing so will increase officer and agency effectiveness, improve odds of officer safety and survival, and reduce a wide array of costs and liability exposures. Most importantly, we can better assure that all officers can actually do their jobs, especially in those infrequent but highly critical moments when the chips are down.

Suspension or termination of employees for failure to meet physical fitness standards will almost always require, ultimately, that the involved standards be scientifically and legally “validated.” Next month’s article will provide details on how to do that and when, exactly, it’s required—whether for physical fitness standards or other employment criteria.

Bob Hoffman served as director of training for the Army’s Soldier Physical Fitness School and he helped develop the Army’s Total Fitness Program. He later developed FitForce, a total fitness program for law enforcement. Affiliated with the Thomas & Means law firm, he has participated in physical fitness validation studies for over 150 law enforcement agencies. He can be contacted at Kevin Lowry recently retired as a chief from the Nassau County, N.Y., Police Department. He is a qualified attorney, arbitrator and hearing officer in matters of personnel and employment. Lowry has held supervisory and management positions in patrol, investigations and administration. He can be reached at Randy Means is a partner in Thomas & Means, a law firm specializing entirely in police operations and administration. He has served the national law enforcement community full time for more than 30 years and is the author of “The Law of Policing,” which is available at He can be reached directly at

Published in Law and Order, Jun 2011

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