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Good cop, fit cop

April 22, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

TRI-STATE - When Hagerstown Police Department Officer Steve Cromer slimmed down by 50 pounds last year, it wasn't because the department required him to lose weight, but because he wanted to get trim.

Law enforcement officers questioned in the Tri-State area said their agencies do not require officers to regularly pass the same fitness program that police recruits are required to pass.

Berkeley County Sheriff's Department Lt. K.C. Bohrer, who's in charge of training, said police recruits must do 27 push-ups in one minute, 29 sit-ups in a minute, run a mile and a half in under 14.52 minutes and reach, while sitting, more than an inch beyond their feet.

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Other agencies questioned said their requirements for police applicants are similar.

Although most police departments require that officers undergo periodic physical exams to ensure they can handle the physical demands of their work, department officials said they encourage fitness but don't enforce it.

Retired Hagerstown Police Department Officer Nick Carter remembers a time when the city police department seemed to watch waistbands almost as much as it did crime.

Suspended in 1975 for being overweight, Carter said he rededicated himself to slimming down his 300-pound frame. He tried to stick to a strict 1,000-calorie-a-day Boston Police Diet and worked out in the mornings at the gym with his supervisors.

"It's hard to lose weight when you're a big person," he said.

While working out on the gym stairs a few years later, Carter said he aggravated a former knee injury, which forced him into early retirement.

His type of injury is a red flag for Washington County Sheriff Charles Mades, who said his department doesn't require officers to stay in shape, but does evaluate their appearance.

Some officers have told him that if they were required to keep in shape, they would have to do it on county time, an idea Mades said doesn't appeal to him. If someone gets injured while working out, he said, he worries about workers' compensation issues.

He said his perception is that "a healthy cop is a good cop," and said if a doctor tells him that a seemingly overweight officer is healthy enough to do the job, he'll take the doctor's word for it.

Utah town's approach


A doctor's word wasn't enough for higher-ups in the Ogden City Police Department in Utah, which last year added an annual fitness test requirement that comes with a termination clause, said Lt. Mark Acker, the department's training officer.

As of November, Acker said, police department members there are required each year to pass a physical fitness test, which includes bench pressing 75 percent of their weight, running a mile and a half in under about 16 minutes and jumping vertically about 16 inches.

He said the department of 132 members was warned in 2000 that the requirements would take effect in 2003. Once they were tested, 10 failed, but have since redeemed themselves. Acker said five people claiming medical exemptions from the test have been placed on desk duty, but eventually will have to pass the test.

Acker likened the fitness testing to periodically testing officers on other aspects of their jobs, such as firearm safety.

"Officers are exposed to long periods of not doing anything to extreme periods of activity and fighting," he said.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said exercise relieves the stress of the job. He said officers get free memberships to a gym, but otherwise are not offered enough incentives to keep in shape - an issue he said is being evaluated.

Carter said he thinks it sends the wrong message to require people to get fit to become police officers but not to maintain fitness once they join the force.

"There is a problem with that," said Charles Town Police Department Chief Mike Aldridge.

"I would like to have (maintaining fitness) as a requirement, but you get into costly things like a gym," he said.

Aldridge said he knows of no police agency in the Tri-State area that requires an annual fitness test.

Cromer took it upon himself to start a Weight Watchers diet. After losing 50 pounds in a year's time, Cromer, 50, said he is down to 212 pounds and feels better about his appearance.

He said that while he wouldn't like the department to have a fitness requirement, he would understand it.

"I think it's important for a police officer to be physically fit. You look better, you feel better," he said.

Each of the law enforcement officials interviewed said they believe their officers generally are in good shape.

Waynesboro Police Department Chief Ray Shultz said he doesn't know why his department doesn't require officers to remain fit.

"My opinion is that it is coming and it is coming really soon," he said.

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