Editorial: Set just one fitness standard for cops
Just how fast should a cop be able to run? Ideally, faster than a speeding bullet, but in the real world some police officers are greyhounds and others couldn’t catch a bus. Similarly, there are police officers who can bench press a motorcycle and others who would be pinned down by a 100-pound sack of potatoes. How fit should someone have to be to serve as a police officer? And should all officers, male and female, young and old, be held to the same standard? David Scott, a 54-year-old part-time Barnstead police officer, thinks so. So do we.
Scott failed the 1 ½-mile run portion of the physical fitness test the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council uses to certify officers because he came in 11 seconds slower than the 14 minutes, 44 seconds maximum permissible time for men his age. As a result, he was unable to be promoted to a full-time officer. Women his age, however, get nearly three minutes more to complete the run, says Scott, who is suing the state over his failure to pass.
Scott deserves to win the suit. It’s illogical to punish one officer for being unable to run a given distance in, say, 14 minutes, while rewarding another officer who needs 16 minutes to complete the task.
Many states continue to use separate fitness standards based on age and gender because they have the beneficial effect of allowing many more women and older candidates to pass the test. That leads to a diverse police force more representative of the public it serves. But it is also discriminatory, contrary to the provisions of the Civil Rights Act, and against the recommendation of the The Cooper Institute, the very agency that devised the test used by New Hampshire and other states.
An ability to run reasonably fast and far without tiring could be considered a necessity for doing business as a police officer, and some level of fitness should be mandatory. At present, it isn’t. New Hampshire requires every police officer hired after 2011 to pass the test, which includes pushups, sit-ups, the run, and the ability to bench press a percentage of one’s weight. Officers who pass the test must be recertified as fit every three years, a policy we wholeheartedly support because it helps protect the public and reduce employee health care costs.
Officers hired before 2001, however, are grandfathered, and we’re willing to bet that a significant percentage of them couldn’t pass the fitness test. That double standard is unfair to more recently hired officers.
Lawsuits like the one Scott filed are commonplace. They tend to be filed be filed by people who pass most of the test but fail one component, often by a small margin. Last spring, a suit still in the courts was filed by an FBI trainee who failed to qualify because he completed only 29 of the required 30 pushups but easily exceeded the 14-pushup standard for female job candidates.
To avoid legal entanglements, the legal office of the FBI now recommends the use of a single standard to measure physical fitness and New Hampshire should do so as well. Setting a standard that does not unfairly discriminate against older officers and women but still safeguards the public by ensuring that all officers are fit enough to perform the tasks required of them won’t be easy, but it can be done. Once it has, all officers should be required to meet that standard and encouraged, by creating a workplace culture that prizes fitness, to continually exceed it.