By Suzie Ziegler
CHEYENNE, Wyo. — In April, the Texas Department of Public Safety released new fitness guidelines that required troopers to slim down or face discipline. Under the policy, troopers must start a weight loss program if their waist measures more than 40 inches for men or 35 inches for women.
The mandate sparked hot debate across the Lone Star state and beyond, including in Wyoming where police leaders decried the waistline rule. In interviews with the Cowboy State Daily, multiple police officials said that while fitness standards are important for officers, body size is not the way to measure it.
Sheriff John Grossnickle is one of those leaders who disagree with the requirements. “Look at a football team,” Grossnickle said to the Cowboy State Daily. “Your offensive linemen are in great shape, but they look completely different than a cornerback or a wide receiver. Mere size isn’t a good approach. There are other ways to deem if a person is in physical shape.”
However, leaders emphasized the importance of staying fit for duty: “People are more willing to stab you, shoot you, run over you, and that was unheard of years ago for the most part,” Byron Oedekoven, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, told the Cowboy State Daily. “I think officers are very conscious of their physical fitness having a significant impact on their ability to survive and do the job.”
In Cheyenne, officers are in better shape than ever before, former Cheyenne Police Chief Brian Kozak told the Daily. According to Kozak, department fitness incentives and a culture shift has helped officers stay in shape. Kozak also said the department has an annual fitness test and recognition program for officers who improve, according to the report.
In a recent Police1 LinkedIn Group discussion, police leaders sounded off on the issue, sharing their thoughts and opinions on the guideline created to motivate officer fitness. We’ve rounded up some of their responses below. And if you haven’t had the opporunity to add your thoughts yet, you can do so in the comment box below.
POLICE1 READERS RESPOND
- Provide time for officers to work out and hire a health professional to monitor each officer’s progress and health conditions free of charge for officers. Consider some very healthy people are big boned but very strong and should not be worried about job loss or loss of hours. I am 100% in favor of officers staying in shape, but we must consider a great number of issues. A weight lifter, muscle bound with a 44-inch waist might not be considered out of shape. Just one example.
- This is not a smart way to encourage officer health and wellness by threatening to cut hours, etc. This is an example of poor leadership. Why not incentivize health and wellness in the department instead of creating a further rift between leadership and LEOs. At a time when recruitment and retention are at all-time lows, this seems counterproductive.
One other thought: stress is a contributing factor to obesity and weight gain … so they should also be looking at stress and officer mental health. Physical fitness and metal health go hand in hand.
- We had to meet fitness requirements to graduate from the academy, serve on SWAT and to become a defensive tactics instructor. I met the requirements because I was motivated to serve in those roles. Requirements at patrol level benefit the officer, the officer’s family and then the department by extention. We have needed yearly standardized fitness requirements for quite some time.
Lack of fitness in our profession has more to do with eating habits, sleep habits and risky indulgences – not lack of access to a gym or on duty workout time. You can walk your beat for hours if you choose.
At the end of the day, our mental and physical fitness is directly and porportionaly linked. Your mental acuity suffers when you are in a continual state of fatigue; out of shape, too heavy, too thin, lacking nourishment, etc. It’s one of the reasons a person takes shortcuts when they are tired.
The more physically fit you are, the more alert you are. The more alert you are, the more you are physically fit to safely address the encounter before you.
- The sad truth of the matter is that personal fitness is a huge part of the job. However, I would personally prefer seeing post-academy exit standards used in place of waist size. A static measurement does not take into account what a body is able to do, whereas keeping physical metrics in the area of physical performance would be more effective. An officer with a 41-inch waist may be as or even more physically capable than an officer with a 39-inch waist. That said, yes, if physical aptitude is in the scope of an officer’s expected daily duties, then there should be standards. I just think this isn’t the best measurement.
This sends the wrong message and does not offer an incentive to want to create a health lifestyle while working in an incredibly demanding profession. Agencies around the country offer positive incentives to their agencies that yield much better responses.
Any employer who places fitness standards on their employees should allow those employees to workout as part of their work day. Placing a standard when you are not willing to compensate takes that person away from other important obligations in their life like family. Provide an environment to thrive and set PT standards that are nationally recognized. Maybe use the military standards as a baseline.
Fitness, while important in LE, is and should be based on the individual achieving certain criteria. An arbitrary number such as the waistline doesn’t fathom as a guideline to an officer’s fitness level.
The waistline can be misleading. A man that is 6’6″ weighing near 300 pounds could be in fantastic shape, but over the 40″ limit. Whereas a man that is 5’10” weighing 230 pounds could be under the 40″ restriction and be incredibly out of shape. Why not use a military style fitness evaluation instead?
I’m 6’7″, 270 pounds and have a 42-inch waist. I’m far from being out of shape or obese. This is crazy. If you can pass the annual fitness test, what’s the problem?
I don’t agree with this policy on its face. But in my opinion, you should look professional in uniform and be able to do the job. People come in all shapes and sizes. The most muscular could be the weakest and the most lean could be the strongest. As long as they are medically cleared for their own health and can assist another officer, if needed, in a combative situation. If those can be met, the waistline of someone shouldn’t matter.
I see both sides of the argument. However, I think each department has to evaluate their current fitness status and set a standard based of it. Texas troopers may have an obese problem with the majority of troopers. Therefore, a waistline limit might be needed. Although, I believe a slim waistline is not the definite answer, but it will help.
I don’t think the size of someone’s waistline is a good guide to enforce. I do think fitness would definitely be a benefit to overall health and injuries. Time for training should be part of the workday and they should have a fitness trainer to help them.
Waistline is not an acceptable method. I have tussled with 44-inch waist people and they were strong and did not wind out.
NEXT: Best exercises to minimize injuries, improve performance
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