“I’m actually very encouraged about the preliminary numbers,” said Lt. Bill Probus, who oversaw the effort. “I think a lot of people were apprehensive about the tests, but I’m very pleased.”
Over the years, physical training, or PT, requirements have come and gone, but longtime employees participating Wednesday said those past tests weren’t strictly enforced.
Chief Deputy Pat Clayton said it had been at least 15 years since the sheriff’s office had PT requirements. Officers were also not required to pass any physical requirements when hired, though deputies were given discounted gym memberships and encouraged to keep themselves in shape.
Aiken and Columbia county sheriff’s offices have existing physical fitness requirements.
When Sheriff Richard Roundtree came into office in 2013, the subject was reintroduced to members of the sheriff’s council, citizen’s advisory board and the command staff. Clayton said the decision to reinstate requirements was unanimous.
The office’s Total Fitness Program is based on the Cooper Institute Absolute Standards for law enforcement and is based on a points system. Employees must score at least 35 out of 50 points to pass. Each category, which includes a one-mile run, 300-meter run, one maximum rep bench press and the number of push-ups and sit-ups completed in one minute, has 10 possible points.
Deputy Jerry Martinez, who has been with the sheriff’s office for 17 years and is an ex-Marine, said he wasn’t really concerned about the tests. His biggest concern was the mile run, but that’s only because he recently had the flu.
He frequents the gym and often runs into co-workers there, but there are some officers who are worried about the testing. To him, it makes sense that someone is less likely to run from a fit officer versus an overweight one.
“Now everyone is going to have to be in shape,” Martinez said. “Criminals stay the same age, but we get older.”
Sgt. John Gray, of the K-9 unit, was the oldest tester at the Wilson Family Y on Wheeler Road on Wednesday.
“I’m getting ready to turn 60, so I can feel my age,” he said.
He related the program to the endurance training they do with the K-9s and called the decision to bring back testing a “common sense approach.”
“If you can run a mile, you can last a little longer out there,” said Gray, who has been with the sheriff’s office since 1977.
Age wasn’t a factor for Gray, who passed every category.
“John is doing pretty well,” said Probus, as he watched the testers run a mile on the dirt track off Wheeler Road. “He has come out to play and passed every category on his own.”
Probus said 31 of the 41 testers in the first week passed. Those who don’t pass have until Jan. 1, 2017, to make the cut.
“It takes time to get out of shape, so we’re giving them that time to get in shape,” Probus said.
The first set of tests this year will give the sheriff’s office an idea of the overall fitness level of its employees and give employees an idea of weaknesses and strengths.
The sheriff’s office will work with the employees who do not pass to find a plan to increase their fitness level and overall health. New hires will fall under the same rules and do not have to pass the test until 2017.
Testing will continue yearly.
The sheriff’s office is working on alternative programs for employees who have legitimate medical issues that preclude them from doing some of the testing requirements. All employees are required to complete a Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire before testing. Anyone who answers yes to any of the questions is required to meet with a doctor before testing.
The first round of tests will continue through May.
The sheriff and Clayton are scheduled for their PT tests this week. Clayton said he doesn’t expect a perfect score but anticipates earning at least 40-45 of the 50 points.
His co-worker, 55-year-old Col. Robert Partain, posted a near perfect score Thursday of 48 points.