Health and safety

Fitness policy is a winner for officers and the people they protect

It’s a perfectly reasonable expectation for law enforcement officers to be in the best possible physical shape. We wouldn’t expect every officer to sport a chiseled bodybuilder’s physique, but the people who protect us every day should be healthy enough for the physical demands of the job.

That’s why the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office’s new fitness initiative for its officers makes a world of sense, and the department should be commended for its commitment to employees’ health and well-being.

“The goal is not to have a bunch of Baywatch guys out there,” explained Lt. Bill Probus of the RCSO’s standards and training division. “The idea of this is to have a healthier work force so that (the deputies) can do their jobs better and safer, and in their off time have a better quality of life.”

Precisely. A more physically fit officer can perform duties better, often with less stress and fatigue. Also, a healthier officer can have a longer career, and is less likely to leave his job because of medical disability. That makes fitness a wise investment. An officer on paid disability costs money. So does training that officer’s replacement.

Getting killed in the line of duty isn’t the only risk officers face. Studies have pointed out that law enforcement officers, as a group, tend to be more susceptible to certain diseases and other causes of death. High on that list are silent killers such as cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. But those can be fought successfully by adhering to healthful habits.

Law enforcement’s struggle with better health has been a growing problem across the country. USA Today reported on law officers’ physical fitness in 2010, and included this observation: “Ronald Smith, chief of the Lawton (Okla.) Police Department, said about 15 percent of applicants to his department this spring failed an initial agility test, including push-ups, sit-ups and a quarter-mile run. ‘Used to be nearly 100 percent passed the agility test,’ he said.”

The latest draft of the RCSO’s Total Fitness program outlines what’s expected from each sworn officer: Complete a one-mile run in less than 12 minutes, and a 300-meter run in less than 80 seconds. A one-rep bench press should equal at least 66 percent of the officer’s body weight. Points on the test will be awarded for completing 17 push-ups and 22 sit-ups, each in one minute’s time. They’re not rigorous military standards, but it’s a start.

Other components of the policy include stress management classes, nutrition classes and a voluntary physical fitness program. “We’re really trying to provide opportunities for the officers to use these resources,” Chief Deputy Patrick Clayton said.

Starting Jan. 1, all new officers must pass the fitness requirements before being sworn in. Current officers have until Jan. 1, 2017 to meet the new standards. Failure to comply will draw increasingly harsh disciplinary measures, ending with being fired.

We expect a lot from the people in uniform who protect us. The RCSO’s new fitness policy should help ensure that the officers tasked with keeping Augusta safer will be physically up to their responsibilities.

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