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More departments are realizing the importance of fitness
Thursday, February 6, 2003
Police officers, like many Americans, are taking fitness more seriously.
"This is new for law enforcement," Ross police Lt. Bob Bellan said.
Ross recently built a new police department, which includes a room police plan on using as an exercise room when problems with the floor are corrected.
Most police departments have fitness requirements to get on the force, but there is no retesting beyond that for police officers.
Even the state police force has no physical qualifications after the police academy. Some police officers keep in shape by participating in weight training, running or other competitive activities.
"A lot of police officers are taking it upon themselves to get fit," said Dave Wright, a fitness instructor at the Pittsburgh Police Academy.
Police officers' health is a concern, with a life of sedentary activity, meals grabbed on the run and occasional adrenaline rushes, and many police departments are starting to evaluate the need for a fitness regimen.
Wright cited a recent study by the Municipal Police Officers' Training and Education group in Harrisburg that stated that the lifespan of police officers averages 57, compared with 76 for Americans in general.
"What's killing cops is not bullets," he said. "It's the sedentary lifestyle."
Some departments are trying to offer more opportunities for police officers to keep fit, including exercise rooms in their stations.
Ross' new police department includes a room that could be used for exercise, but Chief Greg Tenos said that because of problems with the floor, plans for a fitness room are on hold for now.
"Nobody's been able to use it yet," he said.
Tenos said that the department is seeking accreditation from the state Chiefs of Police Association, and one of the qualifications is a fitness regimen. Bellan said that the association requires a fitness regimen for accreditation but leaves the depth and breadth of the regimen to the individual departments.
"They pretty much left it wide open," Bellan said.
Bellan said he hopes to educate police officers first and eventually adopt a voluntary fitness program. He cited Upper St. Clair's fitness program as an example.
In Upper St. Clair, police officers have a workout room and a workout schedule. Chief Ron Pardini — who takes judo lessons, runs and lift weights — said police officers must work out on the company's time two or three times a month, depending on the schedule, and anything else they want to do on their own time.
New police departments in Carnegie and Moon have fitness rooms, and the public safety building going up on the corner of Washington Road and Shady Drive East in Mt. Lebanon also will have a 1,000-square-foot exercise room.
"We have one, and that's a step in the right direction," said Mt. Lebanon police Chief Tom Ogden.
Ogden is hoping to put a voluntary workout regimen in place in the new building and, in time, a mandatory workout.
Karen Finkenbinder, a police training education specialist for the Municipal Police Officers' Training and Education group, said many police agencies are at least considering ongoing physical requirements, if they haven't been implemented already.
"More agencies are doing that because they're beginning to realize that to be a police officer you have to be fit," said Finkenbinder, who was formerly an officer with the Carlisle Police Department, which has ongoing physical requirements.
The Pennsylvania State Police also is trying to implement physical requirements.
To get into the state police academy, candidates must be able to do a 300 meter run in 67 seconds, 30 situps and 13 pushups in a minute, jump 14 inches and run a mile in less than 16 minutes, 54 seconds.
Cpl. Bill Gibson, a trainer at the state police academy, said negotiations are ongoing between the force and the union representing troopers to adopt requirements. Gibson said that police officers need to be retested, noting that physical strength and agility decrease with age.
"There's a shelf life to police work," he said.
Vince Guerrieri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (412) 380-5607.