This was the headline from a popular free daily news paper. It made me laugh. But at the heart of it were some interesting facts which on the whole I felt portrayed an unfair and worrying picture of the state of the health of our police officers. Further examination will show why we (I am a serving officer) are having such huge problems with fitness issues.
Firstly I have been a police officer for 25 years and I have only ever been weighed once, thats right 25 years ago. When I joined I had to run 1.5 miles in under 12 minutes do as many press ups and sit ups in 1 minute and I think do five chin ups, but I maybe wrong. It was a long time ago.
But what I do know is since that day I have seen numerous changes to fitness standards and requirements. Most of them not for the good. So I have been weighed only once. So how do we get to these figures
“Between April 2010 and the end of August last year more than 11,500 Met employees were screened by health workers. Those with a body mass index in excess of 28 — meaning they were clinically overweight or obese — were asked to attend the course as were any men with a waist size in excess of 37in or women with waists larger than 32in.
Many were given one-on-one physical training as well as advice about their diet and lifestyle, which helped the 830 workers lose 3,255kg in total.”
Well as described a small tour took place of the Met with the “Well Woman and Man” campaign. For free you had a medical, quite in depth and these facts were recorded. The first problem here is,it was open to all staff. Civillians and police, so the figures do not distinguish the two roles. Our first distortion. Plus they rely on the Body Mass Index. You can see a table here: BMI
This system is flawed. I have a calculation 22.46 nicely in the green zone. Take my friend he has score of 29.71 he is borderline obese. But he is not, he dead lifts over 200kg has a Fran time of sub 4 minutes. Another friend scores 32.1, I would not dare call him obese he would tear my arms off after chasing me down over 100 meters. The calculation is flawed, taken on its own. So I want to throw some reassurance out there it is not as dark a picture as painted. But why let the facts get in the way of a good story?
However the story does raise some good questions on the police fitness levels. Lets face it we have all seen overweight officers, you don’t need a fancy calculator to do that. And you should rightly ask why or how does this happen. At the risk of this becoming a boring article I will give some brief but frank and personal insight.
When I first started working shift work. I was fit. I worked 8 hour days with overtime on top. I would work in a four week period two 9 day stretches both with a quick change over in them. That is to say you finish work (hopefully on time) and be back at work 8 hours later, maybe with four hours sleep. One of those 9 day stretches contained a week of nights. You did this ad nauseam. Today this shift pattern has been replaced by a number of varieties but nearly all require long extended tours of 9, 10, and 12 hour shifts. Being rested is a massive part of wellness.
Fitness is exclusatory, fact. Let me qualify this. I cannot expect to be in the front row for the England rugby team, in fact I cannot expect to be in the team. We can apply this to all manner of sports and other demonstrators of fitness. I cannot out dead lift my obese friends mentioned above. Agreed? Here comes the politics. In the early nineties we still had a reasonable standard of fitness but we were being looked at very closely of how representative we were of London. We weren’t, for lots of reasons. But one way we could change this was to remove minimum heights, weights requirements and reduce the fitness standards. So we did and these standards have slowly been reduced over the years. We have modified our officer safety practices to allow for individuals who cannot kneel down on one knee and handcuff a suspect! I kid you not. The explanation I was given for this, “It has been decided that you do not have to be fit to be a police officer anymore”
I can remember when we introduced the Leger (bleep) test. A shuttle run over 20m’s in time with ever decreasing times intervals. We reduced ours to 15m’s (cue gasp of exasperation). The initial level for this was 7.2 for recruits, I have been in posts which require 9.5. The recruit level is now 5.4. You should try this it will shock you how easy it is.
But if we believe the article, change is coming. I sat on a working party some years ago which looked at the issue of compulsory fitness tests for ALL. It was soon recognised that there was no political will for this from central government so it seemed pointless. But there is now. So what other issues did we discover. Enforcement and administration are costly. But not insurmountable the biggest problem was allocating time to officers in a shift to train. In the services you are required to be fit they regard their personnel like weapons. They need to be maintained. The police do not. I served on the Territorial Support Group, we were allocated training time on a nigh on daily basis. It was recognised that officers needed an exceptional level of fitness. This has practically stopped in some cases due to a failure to recognise the value of this and a need to extract more patrol time for your money. I wonder what state the armed services would be in if they adopted a similar policy?
Other issues lie in a culture of fast food, irregular meal breaks (to which you are not entitled) and budget constraints. The canteens served the classic Met999 breakfast of sausage, bacon, beans, egg, fried slice and toast all day long everyday to thousands of officers. The healthy option? Frosties with semi skimmed milk and toast with margarine. ARRGGHH!
So it comes back to the question do we want a fit police service? Of course we do. How do we get them fit and keep them fit. Simple, allocate quality time, with quality resources, feed them quality food, and allow quality rest time. Should this apply to all officers? Well to borrow a quote. “Could they have to chase someone?” Then yes it should apply.