Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Fitness: To be or not to be

A former reserve officer and current assembly member is trying to pass a bill that would encourage law enforcement officers to keep physically fit, even after graduating from the police academies.

This was an article in the Press Enterprise about it last April.

State aims for thinner blue line

Todd Spitzer, whose district includes western Riverside County, is the author of Assembly Bill 2183, which he hopes when implemented will help improve the safety of law enforcement officers, as well as decrease the costs that are passed along to the tax payers when an officer is injured or forced to retire due to injuries suffered on the job.

A.B. 2183

(excerpt from article)

"We have a vested interest in their lifestyle," Spitzer said. "If a deputy district attorney drops dead because they're not taking care of themselves, there's no taxpayer cost to that. But if an officer goes out on workers' comp because they have a back injury, that's a cost to us as taxpayers. They have to pay that workers' comp. They have to replace that officer. "I want to have a serious discussion in this state about physical fitness for law enforcement," he said.

Amen, to that.

We have all seen them. Law enforcement officers who are involved in foot pursuits who look like they are about to drop because they are not physically fit. Officers who appear as if they are going to pop the buttons right off of their uniforms even while standing still. There's even stereotypes about police officers hanging out at donut shops. But in reality, the state of physical fitness involving many of this nation's police officers is serious business.

Many experts say that a police officer's level of fitness peaks the day that officer graduates from the basic training academy. After that, the weight begins to come on, the waistline thickens, the uniform gets traded in for a larger size and the face become fuller. On one level, it does not make much sense to mandate that an officer be at peak fitness to graduate from a training academy and then not hold them to the same or at least similar requirements when they begin working as police officers.

Then again, the working demands of being a police officer are different than what goes on each day in the academy when most cadets are being paid to become physically fit as part of their job training.

If law enforcement were a sport, it would be closer to baseball, than distance running. Some sports like running can make you fit just by doing them. Other sports, like baseball, you must become fit to play through other forms of training, rather than from the sport itself. If you are not fit enough to play baseball, then an injury is likely to result. So it is, with law enforcement, a profession that requires physical fitness skills including agility, strength, endurance and the ability to run quickly for a different range of distances. How do you get that fitness? By doing the required amounts of training in each of these disciplines on a regular basis. The question raised by this bill, is when this training should be done.

Logistically, it is very difficult to implement an onduty program as most police officers work long shifts and many also work overtime, especially in agencies affected by staffing shortages. Officers who work in more sedentary positions like detectives also work long hours and a lot of overtime. These things also make it hard to work on physical fitness off the clock.

Hardest hit by the requirements to follow these guidelines would be officers who work graveyard shifts, even though often these are the ones who need them the most.

Those officers already have their biology working against them. Studies have shown that individuals who work graveyard shifts over a period of time are more prone to gaining weight particularly around the abdominal area. Because the sleep patterns of graveyard workers are often disrupted in terms of quantity and quality, it is believed that this causes the release of cortisol which encourages the storage of fat in the abdomen. Stress on the job also increases the release of cortisol which causes the "spare tire" to form. Many studies have shown that this type of fat accumulation carries with it associated health risks including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Health concerns associated with graveyard shift

Exercise also has other benefits including those that affect people's mental states in a positive way. In some cases, it can alleviate mild depression and it can increase self-esteem. Det. Kent Tutwiler, from the Riverside Police Department, mentioned this very important if often overlooked component in his comments from the news article.

"If you're working out, you're feeling better about yourself..."

If passed, AB 2183 would require the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training to create a voluntary physical fitness training program by July 1, 2007. However, the state would also provide a one-time fund of $10 million to cities, counties and other agencies to provide these programs. Officers would be given one hour during their workshifts to exercise.

However, POST currently opposes the bill, according to an analysis done by Geoff Long for the state assembly's appropriations committee. The analysis cited concerns about logistics of implementations and high costs associated with it that go beyond the proposed allocation of $10 million. Costs associated with both administrative expenses and those associated with claims resulting from injuries associated with any onduty fitness program would be prohibitive, it states.

POST's position:

"The problems and obstacles in this bill are
unlikely to be overcome with amendments. The initial and
recurring costs to POST to comply with this bill are
significantly beyond the staffing and budgetary resources of
the commission."

POST cited efforts it had made to address this issue in 1992 when it had implemented voluntary physical fitness training programs. A few law enforcement agencies created programs, but soon discontinued them. A study performed several years later showed that the reasons those programs had been shut down were due to both an increase in injuries associated with them(and thus workmen's compensation claims) and issues that had arisen during the collective bargaining processes pertaining to the programs within different agencies.

POST also states that requiring it to serve as an auditor or some other form of oversight might require powers beyond its statutory limits and that there is no way the programs could be put in place by July 2007.

Long's analysis quoted expenses ranging into the tens of millions of dollars involving those injuries caused while exercising onduty.

Spitzer counters these arguments in the same analysis.

"We need to lead the efforts of local government in minimizing
the adverse effects of accidental losses at a reasonable cost.
We should reward the dedicated men and women of law
enforcement by giving them the tools to expand their average
life expectancy beyond 46 years of age. Implementing a fitness
and wellness program that is directed at the needs of the
individual officer is the best way to accomplish both goals."

A.B. 2183 analysis

Spitzer brings up the argument that fitness programs will expand the average lifespan of a police officer by improving both his or her health and also keeping them safer. Current studies show that on average, officers who retire die within 5-8 years of their retirement date.

The Press Enterprise article allowed for readers to put in their two cents on this contentious issue. The sides were split, the battle lines drawn fairly early in the discussion. Here we have some opinions, along with in several cases, a form of deja vu.

One individual who identified himself as a police officer was all for it with a caveat attached:

April 8, 2006 10:13 a.m.

"I as a cop, I believe it is essential to keep in good physical shape. I can see both sides of the story on this issue and can agree and disagree with the proponents and opponents. I dont necessarily think we should be expected to workout on shift (on the clock), because those of us who do workout, which is about half, come in before our workshift and do so anyway. Then that leaves the other half who dont workout. You have to ask yourself, would they REALLY exercise if they were suppose to during shift, probably not. So my idea would be to give incentives to those who give up their own time to workout. This could even be monitored because our Dept. has a gym at the station."

Another self-identified police officer agreed:

"April 7, 2006 10:15 a.m.

"As a police officer, I stay in what I consider to be above average shape. If an officer who "lets himself go" chooses to be out of shape and go toe to toe with a 200-pound parolee, the punishment is going to be an officer's head on a plate. I know of very few officers that walk this path of poor physical fitness. However, every job out there has those few that perform poorly be it due to fitness or mentality. Law enforcement is no different as there is always the human element involved."

One former police officer who had suffered a career-ending injury offered this up:

April 17, 2006 08:55 p.m.

"Yes. As a retired police officer who went out on an injury, It would do two things. One, it would save the taxpayers money, because more officers would be fit and lower the potential for work related injuries. Two, it would save more lives. A fit officers is more capable of handeling his/her calls for service. How many fat Firefighters do you see compared to Police Officers. The reason is because Firefighters work out on duty!!!Way to go to the California Organization of Police and Sheriffs for spearheading this most beneficial issue!"

Some of the self-identified civilians took the opposite view:

April 10, 2006 04:56 p.m.

"No way! Most officers I know are working 10-12 hour days NOT including their mandatory overtime! We need the officers on the street working so the others can go home and enjoy their lives! However, I agree they should receive some incentives to workout...just not on the clock."

Another was harsher:

April 7, 2006 10:47 a.m.

"No!My taxes dollars should not be put to use for officers to exercise during their working shift. They, like all of us, have free time/down time if they need to stay in shape as part of their position -- that should be on them.Example, nurses and doctors need to take so many units to recertify for their license to practice. It is not done during working hours, it is done on their time. Although some may be compensated for the course through the hospital, it is still on their time. Same (should be) for officers. If the department wants to compensate for the cost of the gym, good. But do it on their own time. (It's) bad enough you can never get an officer to assist you when you really need them...WHY? Because they have moved from the donut shop to the gym. "

Even being physically fit is no panacea against sudden death on the job from health-related causes. The tragic heart attack of University of California police officer Steve Smith(who once worked at UCR's police department) in 2004 is proof of that.

Letter by former UCRPD chief, Hank Rosenfield

But for the majority of police officers, it can offer them some protection from injuries and other health problems, and for taxpayers, it can save them a lot of money.


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