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Capitol Police Launch Optional Fitness Program

Capitol Police officials have a new message for their officers: It’s time to get in shape.

The law enforcement agency begins this month the first stage of its new physical fitness program, which is designed to evaluate fitness among its staff, as well as promote healthier lifestyles for both officers and civilian employees.

The goal of the program, which will be phased in over a three-year period, Deputy Chief Larry Thompson explained, is not to pick on out-of-shape officers, but “to increase the overall fitness of every employee of the Capitol Police.”

In its initial stages, the program will be offered on an optional basis to both sworn officers and civilian employees, with mandatory testing of officers beginning in 2006.

The department has also hired a health and nutritional specialist to counsel employees and offer seminars on various health-related topics.

The program’s first phase will use a three-part fitness test that includes a 1.5-mile run, an agility test and a single-repetition bench press. The test is scored on a variable scale that considers both age and gender.

Capitol Police employees who complete the program will be eligible for incentives, including certificates of appreciation. Those staffers with test scores totaling in the 80th percentile or higher will also be eligible for cash stipends, ranging from $250 to $500.

The law enforcement agency also hopes to encourage participation in the fitness program through an agreement with Gold’s Gym that provides officers with a reduced membership rate.

Sgt. Richard Burton, who works in the agency’s training division and helped develop the fitness program, asserts that using the incentives gives a positive spin to a program that might otherwise have drawn suspicion from some officers.

“This is an employee benefit, this is not a way for us to get rid of people,” Burton said. Officials also hope a healthier force will reduce job-related injuries and cut down on absences due to illness.

The optional fitness test is not identical to the mandatory program coming in 2006, known as the Physical Agility Test, but is designed to give officers an indication of their abilities.

“Three years is enough time that with dedication and effort anybody can get in shape,” Burton said.

The mandatory test — which new recruits will be required to pass beginning this fall — is designed to reflect the actual duties of Capitol Police and requires officers to complete a “pursuit run,” climb stairs, drag a dummy “victim,” and then dry-fire a service weapon, all within less than four minutes.

Unlike the optional fitness test, requirements for the mandatory test are not linked to gender and age. “The job that we do is the same for everyone,” Thompson explained.

For those officers who struggle to complete the test, the department is willing to offer extra assistance, Burton said: “We take people who have difficulty, and we work one on one to get them through.”

Capitol Police officials have not finalized some details of the mandatory program, including what sanctions, if any, could be placed on officers who repeatedly fail the test.

Any mandatory program must also receive the approval of the Capitol Police’s Labor Committee, and officials from both organizations are currently reviewing the program together, Thompson said.

During a pilot program, Capitol Police officials said, the majority of officers passed the mandatory version of the test.

“This is not something that is impossible for people to get through,” Thompson said.

Currently, the department requires officers to pass a fitness test while in training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga. The test includes five major components: a 1.5-mile run/walk; a 180-foot agility run involving sprints, stops and obstacles; bench pressing to evaluate strength; a flexibility test; and a body fat measurement.

After graduating, officers are required to pass periodic tests for firearms training, but there are no subsequent tests for fitness.

One of the obstacles in police work, several officials noted, is that there are often long periods of sedentary activity, such as when officers are assigned to stand for long periods at the entrances to buildings in the Capitol complex.

“Do we still have to be able to react and take action quickly … just because we’re sitting around a lot of the time? Yes, of course we do,” Burton said.

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