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Redefining Fit for Duty

We need to ask some tough questions about the mental and physical fitness of America's law enforcement professionals.

August 01, 2008  |  by Dave Young - Also by this author

Are You Fit for Duty?

There's an important question that I want to ask every officer reading this article: Are you fit for duty? Don't BS yourself here. Answer truthfully in your own mind.

What does "fit for duty" truly mean? Is an officer really fit for duty when he or she cannot complete a [training] task due to past injuries, medical issues, age, emotional issues, or phobias?

I would say no. I would say that an officer is fit for duty when he or she can perform the job in a safe and professional manner that does not jeopardize their lives or the lives of others.

Here's my definition of "fit for duty": If an officer can safely perform his or her duties in an effective manner without jeopardizing his or her life or the lives of others, including other officers, bystanders, even subjects and suspects, the officer is fit for duty.

And I submit to you that some agencies are fielding officers who are not fit for duty. Is your agency one of them? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What does your agency do if an officer can't pass a test, either a written test or a physical application test?
  • What does your agency do if an officer can't get sprayed with a chemical aerosol in training?
  • What does your agency do if an officer can't jump over a fence, run down a subject, and physically control them?
  • What does your agency do if an officer cannot handle and deploy a firearm without the use of prescription eye glasses?
  • What does your agency do when an officer is unable to successfully complete his protective mask drills in a safe and effective manner?
  • What does your agency do when an officer is unable to sustain himself above the surface of the water without the use of a flotation device and said officer is assigned to a waterfront area or a boat?
  • What does your agency do if an officer is unable to operate motor vehicles in a safe and effective manner?
  • What does your agency do if an officer is unable to accurately deploy his or her non lethal weapons?
  • What does your agency do if an officer cannot run 25 yards or up a flight of stairs without being so out of breath that he or she can't physically assist the arresting officer in need of backup?
  • What does your agency do if an officer doesn't understand the language being used in the environment where he or she is being tasked to work?

This list can go on and on. My point here is what we call "safety issues" might mask what they really are, which is an inability to do the job.

Fit for Duty Test

I believe that a good law enforcement training program reinforces self-awareness and allows an officer to effectively conduct personal evaluations to help assist with these issues.

After reviewing the above performance objectives, let's finally look into a few important questions to help you respond to this issue.

  • Will this failure jeopardize my life?
  • Will this failure jeopardize the lives of other officers?
  • Will this failure jeopardize the lives of the people we are sworn to protect?

Answering yes to any of these questions means that you are not fit for duty.

I strongly encourage you and your agency to adopt a fit-for-duty statement that supports officer safety first and foremost. Being fit for duty is not only an officer safety issue, it is the mark of a professional who is ready to fight to protect him- or herself, fellow officers, and the public.

Dave Young is the Director of Specialized Programs for the Northcentral Training College – RedMan Training, and the Director of Training for RedMan Training Gear. A member of the POLICE Advisory Board, he has served in law enforcement and corrections for the U.S. Marines and civilian agencies.

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