Richmond County sheriff’s deputies will be breaking a sweat next year, and not just when they’re chasing bad guys.
Beginning Jan. 1, the Sheriff’s Office will implement a new physical fitness testing program, tentatively named The Total Fitness Program, to promote a healthier force.
The program has been in the works since late spring, said Lt. Bill Probus, of the office’s standards and training division. Probus, who helped draft the new policy, said the office has spent the year observing how other law enforcement agencies have implemented similar policies to identify which program would best suit the department.
“What we’re trying to do is to measure and to test anaerobic capacity, aerobic capacity, muscular endurance, stamina and cardio capacity,” he said. “The goal is not to have a bunch of Baywatch guys out there. The idea of this is to have a healthier workforce so that (the deputies) can do their jobs better and safer, and in their off time have a better quality of life.”
Chief Deputy Patrick Clayton said the policy will help to reduce the number of officers seeking worker’s compensation for injuries sustained on the job, while decreasing the risk of heart disease.
“Plus, there’s appearance,” he said. “When the new administration came in, we saw a lot of deputies who were grossly overweight. When you have unfit looking officers, that presents a bad image for the whole agency. We want to instill confidence in the public.”
The program, Clayton said, will test all sworn officers in push-ups, sit-ups, a one-mile run, a 300-meter sprint and a one-rep bench press.
Deputies will be scored on a scale of one to 10 depending on how well they perform each exercise. To pass, a deputy must post a cumulative score of 35 points, or five points in each category.
“We set the standards so that there is one standard for everybody,” Clayton said.
According to the most recent draft of the policy, all sworn officers are expected to complete the one-mile run in less than 12 minutes. The 300-meter run must be finished in less than 80 seconds, and the one-rep bench press must equate to at least 66 percent of the participant’s body weight.
Deputies would be awarded 5 points each for completing 17 push-ups and 22 sit-ups in a minute’s time.
Clayton said the exercises relate to tasks officer might be expected to perform while on the job.
A strong upper body, as tested in the bench press and push-up exercises, will come in handy should an officer find himself in a struggle with a perpetrator, Clayton said. Core strength, which is tested through the sit-up exercise, will reduce back injuries for officers who sit in patrol cars for long periods of time.
The program goes much deeper than the series of physical tests, though.
“We’re going to do nutrition classes,” he said. “We’re going to offer stress management classes. There will also be a voluntary physical fitness program ... We’re really trying to provide opportunities for the officers to use these resources.”
According to the policy, peer fitness counselors will be made available on request for deputies who fail to meet the new requirements.
Those who fail on the first try will have until Jan. 1, 2017, to meet the standards. If the standards aren’t met by then, deputies will be subject to “progressive discipline measures,” including verbal and written reprimands, suspensions, transfer to a non-sworn position or termination.
Employees hired after Jan. 1 must past the test before they are sworn in, Clayton said.
According to the policy, deputies who qualify will be offered pins and ribbons for uniform wear, gift cards, paid time off and improvement awards as incentives.
Probus said that everyone – including the command staff – will be required to take part in the program.
“The sheriff himself will be first in line for testing beginning in 2014,” he said. “He’s not going to require anything of anyone that he won’t do himself.”