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Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

We Don't Need to Relax Recruit Fitness Standards, We need to Prepare Candidates Better

The DOJ's lawsuit against the Pennsylvania State Police targets fitness standards as discriminatory against female recruits, but the real issue is being ignored.

August 26, 2014  |  by

On a hot July morning, some years ago, I parked my car in the police academy parking lot at the base of a mountain range skirting the south end of Phoenix, Arizona. I lugged my bags of books, newly pressed uniforms, gun belt, and my physical fitness gear to the locker room.

I was sweating within seconds of exiting my car. It was already over 90 degrees and the July humidity was going to take it’s toll on anyone foolish enough to be outside that day. I knew that the first thing on my plate this morning was physical conditioning, or PT, as it was known. I donned my 80's-style athletic shorts and white cotton T-shirt and fell-in to start morning PT. As luck would have it, my academy sergeant was a runner. A skinny, agile guy that thought running was fun. I was just shy of 200 pounds and more likely to be found in the gym with a set of weights than on the roads in a pair of running shoes. Running was painful, not fun.

Nonetheless, I wanted to be a police officer and I was not going to let a little thing like running 7 miles wash me out of the academy. So I fell into the pack, running behind the nimble Sergeant, up the mountain, down the mountain, across the desert and back to the police academy, 7-miles to the better and 7 pounds of water lighter.

This scenario was repeated almost every workday for five months. PT was a big part of the academy. It was exactly as I expected. I knew I had passed a physical test to get hired, and I knew that those standards would have to be met to graduate and become a police officer. A few months later, I passed the final PT test and graduated to a full-fledged rookie officer-in-training.

Now, back in the '80s when the above scenario was unfolding, we used fitness standards set by the Cooper’s Institute. We had to complete a 1.5-mile run in a certain amount of time, do the prescribed amount of sit-ups and push-ups, and complete an obstacle course designed to simulate what we would be doing on the job. We also talked about different standards for women than men as well. As time passed, the standards have continued to relax to the point where just about anyone should be able to pass and become a police officer.

The women in my academy class performed just as well or better than the men in the class. They had the same standards to meet because they were going to be doing the same job as the men. It made perfect sense. But what about the testing process that everyone had to go through to get hired and sent to the academy? Did the physical testing give undue favor to male applicants?

The debate over male and female physical fitness testing for police hiring was renewed in a very big way this month, almost 30-years after my classmates and I pondered the same question.

The Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania State Police that claims the agency's physical fitness standards for recruits discriminate against women. They have some very solid figures to back up their claim.

The fitness testing pass rates for female and males are strikingly different. I have read something like 94% of men passed and 71% of women passed since 2003.

The DOJ argues that the different pass rates for men and women were evidence the tests had a detrimental impact on women. I agree, those percentages are not something that anyone should ignore. They are red flags being raised to show a process that may not be fair.

I am not going to sit here and say that the Pennsylvania State Police testing is designed to discriminate against female applicants. It is not. And the leadership of the PSP is not trying to keep women out of their fine agency. But there are still those percentages that say something is wrong. The disparity in pass rates for men and women doesn’t warrant a DOJ lawsuit, but it can’t be ignored either.

Whenever there is a systemic failure in a process that appears to be discriminatory, then it’s right to look at the whole process. I’m not talking about modifying the number of sit-ups or pushups that officer-candidates need to do. You look at the standards that have to be met to pass and you scratch your head as to why someone who wants to be a police officer would show up not prepared to do 13 sit-ups in a minute. I’m talking about what happens to get this pool of applicants to the testing process. How did the 29% of females and the 6% of males that can’t pass the fitness test get to the starting line of the 300-meter qualifying run? The answer may lie in the recruiting.

The recruiting function for the PSP is responsible for who shows up to take the physical fitness test. Clearly, there is a greater percentage of men showing up that can pass the fitness test than the percentage of women showing up who can pass. That’s not discrimination, that’s reality. The PSP should look at what they are doing, or not doing to get this collective pool of candidates to the testing process. I doubt it will be an easy answer, but it is clear to me that may be the problem. It’s certainly not the fitness standards.

Fitness standards should not be lowered to accommodate anyone, male or female. The job is the job, and the physical requirements are the same for men and women officers. It’s absurd to propose that women will have an easier time of it on the streets so they can be less fit. That’s like saying the fat officer is jollier, so they don’t have to be fit because they can laugh their way out of a physical confrontation. It’s absurd. The testing standards the PSP uses are not that difficult and I doubt that is the real problem here. The standards are actually easier than some fitness testing standards for local agencies in that state. So what is the problem?

It would behoove the PSP to answer that question because the agency has a lawsuit to deal with. This DOJ suit is an unnecessary distraction, but the leadership of the PSP should have seen it coming. They should have looked at those glaring percentages and tried to figure out how to address the disparity. All agencies should do that. It’s unfortunate that the Pennsylvania State Police has to bear the burden, but you can rest assured that the results of this DOJ lawsuit will be a learning opportunity for many other agencies.

I don’t know what will come of all this, but the PSP will have to do something. Is it in the recruiting section or in the actual physical testing, or both? Either way, everyone should take note of what is happening to the Pennsylvania State Police. Look at your percentages of men and women who are successful in your process. Look at all the demographics, not just sex. Look to see if there are any glaring percentages that may show a problem. Then look at the entire system from the recruiting efforts, to the application and testing and beyond to field training, and retention. The numbers don’t lie.

Comments (6)

Displaying 1 - 6 of 6

marine0331 @ 8/26/2014 8:28 AM

I am not an officer, YET, I spent 7 years in the Marine Corps and have a great understanding of physical fitness. In my opinion the Cooper Test is a good measure of your overall fitness, but I feel that in no way does it show how well a candidate will be able to preform the job. I don't mind doing the Cooper for the departments I have applied to but I feel that everyone should incorporate an obstacle course designed to simulate a foot chase type senario, wearing a complete duty belt, boots, pants, and a ballistic vest, and at the end of the course when your wore out you have to make arrest. A lot of candidates don't understand how much all of that gear restricts your movement (I am a private security contractor for the Department of Homeland Security, I wear the same gear everyday so I'm not blowin' smoke). And I don't mean that this obstacle course needs to show how well your techniques of subduing a subject are just that you have the ability to succeed in a situation that can become physically demanding and aggressive, because most people that are applying either have no experience or training doing such things or come from the military where you did what needed to be done in a given situation, with little to no training (I come from the infantry, we didn't learn how to "arrest" people prior to our deployments, we learned on the streets). I personally believe that an obstacle course should be done prior to the Cooper test, because most likely if you can't get through that you won't get through the Cooper. Just my opinions though.

TheRookie @ 8/30/2014 8:36 AM

As a youngster I teethed on the Cooper Tests. I did an average of 3-4 my first year testing. After that I had to do the FLETC Academy & then later on my civilian L.E. Academy. If I hadn't stayed in shape while in L.E. I'd of been injured and/or killed many times over. It's sometimes the only thing between life & death.
Of course the feds don't see it that way as they sit in their ivory towers & judge L.E.O's. in a ever present bad light.

kevCopAz @ 8/30/2014 10:35 AM

I totally agree with you all, especially the author. I was in the same Academy (class 158 1980) and the author is not blowing smoke. We started with 60+ recruits, ended with upper 30's. The best remained, the others washed out. This saved money on further field training and I think saved lives along the way. The PD standards should be relative to the job (as fire are) manx NOT any different for females or males. Why is it that females due to lack of upper body strength, are not required to do as many push ups when they are not required to do MORE sit ups (smaller upper body, easier sit ups)? Why don't the Feds just say what they want, an exact % of the local racial make up on every department….no real requirements other then RACE & GENDER! Remember we now have to consider trans-gender, questioning gender and whatever you feel like being foe today gender! We should NOT give a darn what your race/gender or sexual preference is, we should care only that the applicant is qualified

Bill Comment @ 4/4/2015 10:57 PM

Check all of the US military and you will see a large difference between male & female PT standards.
The US Marines had a goal to have all current Marine women be able to do 3 pullup minimum instead of flex arm hang to pass PT. They trained large group of Marine women for over a year attempting to reach this goal. They have currently given up on this 3 pull up minimum standard.
Gender equity = lower physical standards.

Edward @ 4/5/2015 9:45 AM

I just checked the physical requirements for a Pennsylvania State Police.
Their minimum standards are extremely low and anyone not able to pass them should be embarrassed. I went through LAPD academy so I will compare some of PSP standards to what was needed to be middle of the pack, not draw trainers wrath, during my academy training. My friends son just went through Austin TX. PD academy so I will also add there minimum standards.
I am just listing some of the PT standards to show how low PSP PT requirements are.
1- 300 yd. run PSP 77 sec. (LAPD 44 sec) (APD 63 sec)
2- Pushups PSP 13 (LAPD 60) (APD 33)
3- Set ups PSP not required (LAPD 55) (APD 36)
4- 1.5 mile run PSP 17min 48sec max (LAPD 11 min) (APD 13 min max)
Of course women, especially minority women, are given a pass if they can just do minimums.

Frankie Neptune @ 6/30/2016 5:08 PM

We need to Laugh at this stuff. This is my fictionalized story about the NYPD in the last third of the last century.

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