Lack of mandated fitness tests for NYPD raises weighty issue
New York City police officers are not required to take physical fitness tests, raising concerns that many on the thin blue line aren’t in the “finest” shape to protect the public.
“If you’ve got a guy who’s overweight, what good is he?” asked Bo Dietl, a private eye and former NYPD detective. “If he can’t fight with somebody, that’s no good. … You’ve got to wrestle with them without having to shoot them.”
Observers said fit cops are less likely to fire their guns in a chase. Further, the lack of fitness standards may bloat pension and disability costs, some contend.
City firefighters must undergo almost yearly physical exams, as do police in several other departments nationwide. And many NYPD officers concede that fitness tests are necessary.
“We definitely need them. A lot of people are out of shape around here,” said a midtown cop, one of dozens who spoke with amNewYork on the condition of anonymity.
NYPD officials would not comment, but law enforcement experts said fiscal constraints, the logistics of testing a 35,000-strong force, and discrimination concerns deter mandatory testing. Other city officials and former cops defended the status quo.
“Their incentive [to stay fit] is not to get their ass kicked,” said PBA spokesman Albert O’Leary.
It’s ironic that police academy cadets must take fitness tests, but are not checked after they’re on the force, said Jay Smith, president of FitForce, which develops fitness standards and once tried to work with the NYPD.
“What’s so appalling is that ‘Joe Citizen’ on the street would assume you would have to have some level of fitness to be a police officer,” Smith said.
The percentage of early retirements that fitness standards could prevent is impossible to know. But unfit police risk stress-based injuries, heart attacks, strokes and breathing trauma, said Bryan Fass, co-author of “Fit Responder,” a wellness plan.
NYPD pension fund data shows that orthopedic injuries are the No. 1 reason behind job-related disability filings.
"The taxpayers may have a right to look at fitness levels if people are getting pensioned off,” said Eugene O’Donnell, of John Jay College.
‘There’s no excuse’
The city’s 11,000 firefighters and 3,000 EMS workers must take almost annual fitness tests. While FDNY and EMS duties are different, police officers should be ready to protect civilians, experts said.
“Cops should work out,” said a sergeant on the Lower East Side, and station house gyms and inexpensive police fitness centers make it easy. “There’s no excuse.”
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police in North Carolina are among the larger departments that mandate annual fitness testing. Others, such as the New York State police and the Chicago Police, offer optional tests with financial incentives.
“If you gave people $1,000 to stay in shape, they’d do it,” said an NYPD officer. The NYPD does offer an annual fitness test to earn a half-point toward promotion.
Strong Northeast police unions usually oppose fitness tests, experts said. An amNewYork survey of regional agencies found only Hoboken had fitness testing, and it’s voluntary.
“It’s important for police officers to stay fit,” said Councilman Peter Vallone, chair of the public safety committee, “but our police officers know this and they are some of the fittest public officials we have.”
Still, the Finest can always use a little more guidance, said a slim police officer in Crown Heights.
“Tests would be real good,” he said, then puffed out his cheeks and cupped his hands in front of his belly. “Have you seen some of these guys out here?”
Jason Fink contributed to this firstname.lastname@example.org