FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!
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).

Lynne Doucette

Lynne Doucette

Lt. Lynne D. Doucette is a patrol supervisor and defensive tactics trainer with the Brunswick (Maine) PD. Prior to being the first female promoted at BPD, she worked as an undercover detective assigned to the state narcotics task force.

Patricia Teinert

Patricia Teinert

Patricia A. Teinert has been a Texas peace officer since 1984. She has served as a patrol officer, investigator, and member of a juvenile gang and narcotics task force. She is currently a patrol officer with Katy ISD Police Department.
Women in Law Enforcement

Are Physical Tests Fair to Females?

Physical ability tests often rule out qualified female applicants for entry level police jobs.

July 13, 2012  |  by Cassi Fields

CC_Flickr: mikebaird
CC_Flickr: mikebaird

The U.S. Justice Department, in a July 3 lawsuit, accused the Corpus Christi (Texas) Police Department of discriminating against women with its hiring practices.

Between 2005 and 2011, female physical ability test pass rates were 80% lower than those of their male counterparts, according to the Justice Department. These tests allegedly violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which was amended in 1991. Unfortunately, these types of tests tend to eliminate females from consideration at a higher rate than males.

There are two major inconsistencies when using physical ability tests as hiring criteria. I've studied these inconsistencies, and believe we're addressing them as members of the International Association of Chiefs of Police Diversity Council.

There's a pattern across police departments in this country where the physical ability hiring standard is higher than the physical ability post-hiring standard. A major problem with using physical ability tests as hiring criteria is that an applicant must be fit when hired, but in many police departments, they can deteriorate significantly once they obtain seniority.

Another inconsistency in these tests is that many departments still utilize physical ability tests that don't relate to the job. I know of at least one physical ability test in which a person must bench press the equivalent of his or her body weight. The testing community knows how to address these problems. The police community knows how to address these problems. Why hasn't the issue been addressed?

If a female becomes interested in pursuing a career as a police officer, she should perform a self-assessment. Here's a checklist of questions prospective female police officers should ask when applying for the job or a promotion:

  • What are the specific skills, knowledge, and personality characteristics required of police?
  • Is the organizational structure friendly and open to women and diversity? Many are!
  • What is the promotion potential?
  • What is the selection process?
  • How do I prepare for that process?

Applicants who come prepared with this information should land the job!

Cassi Fields is the CEO of LeT Corp. and Fields Consulting Group, which offer products and services to clients to advance their careers and promote diversity in the workplace.

Comments (21)

Displaying 1 - 21 of 21

k.wesley @ 7/17/2012 5:20 PM

The job of law enforcement requires a standard of fitness, not a man's, not a woman's, a standard. It is understandable that an agency would want a candidate to be fit at hiring. If they hired someone who passed the other parts of the hiring process, but failed the physical portion, and were unable to do the job after hiring, it would be impossible to remove the individual from the roster. "You hired me knowing what kind of shape I was in." If post hiring standards are less, that is too bad. I would hope that men and women both would look at the job at hand and take personal accountability to achieve and maintain fitness. I would want the individual backing me up to be able to perform at the highest level necessary to stop the threat. Man or woman, shouldn't determine the level, a standard should. People really need to stop expecting exceptions, build themselves to the level required and then go for it.
There are a lot of women in law enforcement who made the cut, not because the standard was lowered, but because they worked to achieve the standard.

Tom Ret @ 7/17/2012 6:46 PM

Police work is a violent profession and those pursuing it before be prepared physically and emotionally. Passing anyone who is not able to handle the demands of the job is not doing them any favors, the public or the other officers they will work with.

Dennis @ 7/17/2012 7:25 PM

I am a 61 year old active duty police officer and I just completed SWAT certification this year. Also I am a 50% combat related disabled retired veteran from the Army. The only limit is the limit of your desire. There needs to be a standard of strength due to the position . However, I do agree that most senior officers are in horrible shape. That is a political and management problem I have no desire to be involved with solving.

Adrian T. Stroud @ 7/17/2012 7:34 PM

CT uses the Cooper Standard, from the Cooper Institute in Texas. A male or female must pass the 50% to be hired. I think the Cooper Standard is useless. Let's go back to the old days where we ran an obstacle course and did realistic things, like those you would encounter on the job. In CT veteran officer, who may have been banged up as we all are after many fights on the job, is held to ridiculous standards when trying to transfer to another department. I agree that we should all be in shape, but how about making sure we are provided the best exercise equipment AND the time to work out! Try finding that when you are ordered in on your days off and made to work doubles.

Kenneth @ 7/17/2012 8:31 PM

Unfortunately most women lack upper body strength in order to handle many situations. Not their fault, just made that way. I have been in law enforcement 40 years this month, and still believe that a female has no business in a patrol car. A 110 pound female simply cannot handle a drunk 220 way.

P.O. @ 7/17/2012 10:43 PM

Standards and tests for Police and fire should be equal and the same for males and females, when in real life a EDP/Drunk is not going to go easy on an officer if its a female, nor is a 250lb man going to magically get lighter when needed to be carried out of a burning building. Females have their much needed places in fire and L.E. but only if the can pass the same as a man, no special treatment for someone who has to protect others.

[email protected] @ 7/17/2012 11:08 PM

Kenneth, I gotta agree. Before I get jumped for being a "throwback", take a look at the stats for female Officers being disarmed and or beaten by "normal" build males. In a hands on struggle either to cuff or at least restrain a perp you need upper body strengh or "body mass" that most female Officers just don't have.

BW @ 7/17/2012 11:31 PM

Not in Illinois is it unfair for women, it's the other way around! We use the POWER test. Women have to max bench half that of men, do fewer situps in a minute, and have nearly 3 minutes extra on the mile-and-a-half run. The biggest difference is they have to reach 2 inches farther on the sit-and-reach.

ranger @ 7/18/2012 3:20 AM

If anything, the fitness test is discriminatory towards men. By that I mean that men have to achieve higher standards then women. Even given the obvious differences in body composition, it seems that there should be just one standard for ALL to meet. When I tried out for SWAT, there was one standard. Although not an easy test, through my hard work I was able to pass it with relative ease. Those standards had to be met every year, unlike, as the article says, met just upon hiring.

The cooper standards may be outdated. If you want to be a cop you should be not only mentally but physically in top shape regardless of gender. And those standards for fitness should be upheld throughout your career

Josh @ 7/18/2012 6:22 AM

I'm surprised by these comments, in a good way. I thought PC would dictate and nobody would discuss the elephant in the room. In NY we use the Cooper Standards, and we have to meet them. And they are easier for women. So women the same age as I was when I tested got extra time on the mile and a half, less situps, less pushups. "Equal pay for equal work" they yell, well then do the equal work. Simply put, they cannot. Twice in my short career situations have gotten out of hand due to a female not being able to handle a situation. If we're going to make allowances for females because they're built differently, I think white people should get more time on the run than black people, because we're built differently. Being hyperbolic to illustrate a point there people. Demonstrating absurdity by being absurd.

JimA @ 7/18/2012 7:31 AM

Both male and female officers do the same job. Would anyone argue that they should not receive the same pay? (Only an idiot). If we do the same job, we should conform to the same physical standard. it is reasonable. Fire fighters do the same. I have seen females that can kick my ass. I am proud of them and gladly work with them. I doubt you would never find a company lowering the typing words per minute standard for a male secretarial applicant. Equal means equal. End of discussion.

Tricia @ 7/18/2012 8:01 AM

I'm a 25 year veteran female officer. I'm a defensive tactics instructor and have administered our arrest control program for 19 years. I will never be able to do as many pushups as an average male officer, and those who think that test is a fair test are naive at best. I've seen many officers, both male and females, with no skill and no strength. The bluff their way through calls and rely on luck throughout their careers. Obviously, there must be a hiring standard. I favor realistic obstacle courses that test the essential job functions. We dumped the Cooper test many years ago and now use the essential functions test...running, climbing, crawling through a window, and dragging a 150lb dummy a short distance.

Josh @ 7/18/2012 8:15 AM

I do think they should receive the same pay, for the same work, and the same entrance standards. And I'm not arguing a point against female officers. Conversely, I have seen them de-escalate a situation using words where I would have gone in more aggresively and possibly gotten hurt. I agree that standards should be just that, standard.

FireCop @ 7/18/2012 11:05 AM

First of all, tell the US Justice Department to go stick it in a sack. Second of all, Tricia is correct in my humble opinion. Dump the stupid tests that some departments have been using for years and put in place an essential functions test. Then do as a local Sheriff has here; buy the department a membership at a local fitness center and require them to pass the annual essential functions test, or they're fired. Be safe.

Dan @ 7/18/2012 6:21 PM

A standard is a standard. Regardless of sex. To try and demonstrate, would it be fair to lower the required passing score on learning domains for a trainee who has lived with dyslexia his whole life and has trouble reading? No. Even though he has a legitimate learning disability, he would still need to score a passing score. On the same line of thinking, the standard should not be lowered for women because of genetics.

Mark Brewer @ 7/19/2012 3:22 AM

Tricia is right. Florida has adopted a Physical Abilities Test, not Fitness or Agility. It consists of starting in car, getting out, applying handcuffs, firing an unloaded gun ten times with each hand, balance beam, stairs, dummy drag and then 1/4 mile run and the total time is way liberal. Even to shorten the time requirement a few minutes results in disparate impact and a lower female pass rate. The Cooper standards are prejudicial against men (like the Army PT test) and my comment was, "I need to have a sex change operation before the PT test." Use an abilities test that encompasses the Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications and have the same requirements for men and women with a reasonable standard so women can reasonably pass and men are not held to a different standard. Does your agency have unique mission requirements? Pittsburgh subway cops often have to run from station to station so they required you to run up a flight of stairs, then a certain distance and down a flight of stairs and that was upheld for both men and women. You need to be able to swim if your jurisdiction is around water. Just think about how many times a female officer has come in handy because a guy will confess to her, she can comfort a female victim, she can calm an angry male, etc. We need more good cops of both genders. 95% of police work does not require force and as far as the 230 pound drunk other commenters have made, that is why you issue Tasers. Just to avoid workers comp issues, use the Taser. The only difference between male and female officers is the same between stronger and weaker officers and that

Halderon @ 7/19/2012 3:19 PM

Physically involved tests are not imposed on anyone. Like males, females "volunteer" the minute that they fill out an application-they know what is involved. Like Mark, I agree that the tests be geared towards occupational standards not training for the Olympics. They are a welcomed addition to any police department.

Brian Greene @ 7/24/2012 11:03 AM

If physical tests are fair to males but not fair to females then we must admit to a lack of equality in the female and male bodies and, therefor, a lack of equality across the board. If it's equal, it's equal. If it's fair to some but not to all, it's not equal. The only people that can make this decision are women in law enforcement. If they deem it's unfair then you can deem a difference in men and women and all the BS about equal pay for equal work goes out the window.

So, ladies, too hard for you?

Kate @ 7/31/2012 6:12 PM

This article is interesting and the comments more so. As a female entering police academy, I realize that I will not be able to meet the physical standards of the men in my class. As mentioned, women are not built for upper body strength. That said, if you put me on a leg press I can manage a higher proportional weight than most men because that's where women are strong. Since I'm 5'9" it's not a question of anyone having a significant height advantage on me so I know it's up to me to build muscle and get my upper body strength up - but even so, I will never be able to lift what a man can.

I can, however, shoot better than many men, run as fast, memorize the laws and regulations, and have a real desire to serve as a police officer. I go into this knowing I will likely be disrespected because of my gender, face a harder time proving myself, and make less than my male colleagues, but I don't care - this is what I want to do. Should I be excluded because in a bench press or pushup contest I can't beat a male?

If anything, the attitude I am already seeing just demonstrates to me that the entire field of law enforcement is harder for a woman, because we have to work so much harder to be taken seriously. It's going to be a challenge - luckily, there are women out there who thrive on such challenges.

JOHN OCONNOR @ 11/8/2012 6:13 AM

you have to bench press your body weight to simulate lifting yourself off the ground, or lifting a person off of you who may be trying to attack you. so your statement is wront, it does pertain to the job.

Didi @ 2/12/2013 7:49 AM

With all due respect, doing 25 push ups as a prequalification is not going to make a big difference when a female officer is fighting a 250 lbs man. Police deparments are filled with fat over weight officers that can not even do one. It is my humble opionion that there should be a modification in physical agility testing (height, weight and age play a big role). There should NOT be one for mental fitness or knowledge of the penal code, etc... There are many advantages in having female police officers. There hasn't been fair treatment for females in many departments in the county that I work in. It is still male dominated (not bashing guys), I'm bashing the system. I can't deny the fact that I am not in the same physical shape I was in when I was in my mid 20's, so I maintain as best as possible. So if I was to apply at a police department, I would like them to take all things in consideration; experience and my abilities to perform my job, not just physical agility.

Join the Discussion

POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.

Other Recent Blog Posts

Foot and Hoof Patrol: Meaningfully Connecting Cops and Citizens
Foot patrol is the essence of community policing—officers on foot create opportunities for...
Arrive Alive: Police Must Reduce Single-Vehicle Crashes on Patrol
Too many officers are driving themselves into their graves—turning their cars into their...

Police Magazine