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The (Not-So) Thin Blue Line:
Obesity Challenges Police Academies

Some Texas law enforcement agencies are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit cadets physically fit enough to become peace officers.

Mike Harper, an associate director for professional education at Dallas’ Cooper Institute, teaches classes for law enforcement agencies on how to prepare and physically screen prospective officers. According to Harper, rising obesity rates are affecting the pool of applicants.

Higher rates of obesity translate into higher dropout rates at police academies – a tremendous waste of time, money and resources.

“Without a doubt, young men and women who are applying for academies are fatter and heavier than at any time in history,” Harper says. “This is a reflection of obesity in the population as a whole.”

Each force has its own fitness standards. The Fort Worth Police Department requires applicants to complete a Physical Assessment Test (PAT), an obstacle course combining sprints, barrier and stair climbing, physical restraint tasks, pursuit, victim rescue and trigger-pull assessments. All candidates wear between 14 and 17 pounds of gear and must finish the course in two minutes and 55 seconds or less.

Fort Worth PD Sgt. L.G. Klein has worked at the city’s academy for 18 years and agrees with Harper’s assessment. She says the gap between fitness requirements and candidates’ actual fitness may soon be widened further due to tighter standards.

Klein says that the current Fort Worth test is not difficult, noting a 397-pound candidate — for whom a large enough gun belt could not be found — passed. The department may return to more stringent testing that better reflects the physical requirements of the job when the city’s labor agreement with its officers expires in October 2012.

Harper says higher rates of obesity translate into higher dropout rates at police academies.

“A common complaint [from police agencies] is that the people entering the academies today are so unfit and overweight that many drop out or are dismissed,” Harper says. “This is a tremendous waste of time, money and resources.”

Klein says it costs taxpayers $200,000 to move a candidate from admission to graduation from the seven-month academy program.

For more information on cadet requirements, visit the Fort Worth Police Department. For more information on the Cooper Institute’s program for training law enforcement candidates, visit the Cooper Institute website.

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