The Minneapolis Police Department is considering switching up its physical conditioning test for new recruits — trading situps and pushups for 2,000 meters on a rowing machine, which officials say offers a more accurate picture of an officer's fitness for street work.
The changes could come as early as this year, officials said.
The current test, based on what's called the Cooper standard, includes running a mile and a half in 15 minutes, 44 seconds, doing 30 situps, 25 pushups and having a vertical jump of at least 13 inches.
Under the proposed changes, developed by the Texas Department of Public Safety, Minneapolis would eliminate some of these tests. Instead, would-be officers would strap into a Concept 2 Rower, similar to those found in just about any gym in America, and row for 2,000 meters, with the scoring based on age, gender and weight.
Some of the machines have already been added to workout rooms at the city's five police precincts, and are seen as a better method for testing an officer's aerobic capacity, a measure of the body's ability to turn oxygen into energy, officials say.
The proposed changes come as officers' wellness is paramount. A 2011 study found that 98 percent of U.S. law enforcement agencies don't require their officers to meet physical fitness standards after being hired. Another suggested that out-of-shape officers are more prone to getting injured on the job, citing FBI research showing that suspects tended to "size up" potential victims before deciding whether to attack.
In a budget presentation last fall, Minneapolis officials said that 67,000 hours of work time were lost to sick officers or those injured on duty in 2017, resulting in about $2.7 million in overtime and worker's compensation-related costs for the department.
The department has joined others across the county in developing new fitness standards, while starting wellness programs aimed not only at keeping officers' waistlines in check but also teaching them effective strategies for dealing with chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes and hypertension.
"We have never been very intentional about the wellness for our own peace officers and why that's so important to make sure … that they're as healthy and well as they can be," Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said during the presentation.
Still, officials said, many of today's recruits tend to be more health-conscious than their doughnut-munching Hollywood counterparts. In Minneapolis, all officers are eligible for a free health club membership, up to $550, under the union contract.
When Fifth Precinct Inspector Kathy Waite started offering yoga to her officers as a way of getting in shape and relieving stress, some of them scoffed at the idea of sitting through what they saw as glorified stretching.
"A couple of months into it, now they're bringing in their own mats," she said at a recent hearing.
Officials first hope to get a better understanding of the changing physical demands of the job through a departmentwide survey asking officers about their work habits. Results are expected sometime this year.
The last such survey, conducted in 2003, confirmed what researchers have long suspected: with a growing dependence on technology, police work is becoming increasingly sedentary, punctuated with moments of intense physical exertion.
In 2003, officers reported spending 35 percent of their time on the job standing or walking, and only five percent running. About two thirds of their day, the survey found, was spent sitting, in a squad car or at a desk, writing reports.
The high-stress nature of the job and long, unpredictable work hours sometimes contribute to poor eating habits and a lack of exercise. As a result, officers have shorter life expectancies and are at greater risk of coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease than the general public. Many retire early as a result.
The number of disability-related retirements for both physical and psychological injuries among police officers rose from 128 between 2009-2012 to 231 between 2013-2016, the Minnesota Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) found.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey's 2019 budget sets aside $150,000 for the department's wellness program.
"The decline of mental and physical health among law enforcement has significant consequences; increase of on-duty illness and injury, increased liability and workers' compensation costs, and loss of respect and trust within the Community," officials wrote in a budget report. "The Health and Wellness program will result in fewer hours lost to sick and injured on duty time especially in our Patrol units, which should result in an overall decrease, over time, in workers' compensation and sick costs."
Other departments still use the Cooper test for new hires, including Bloomington.
The emphasis on a healthy lifestyle doesn't end after an officer is hired, said Mike Hartley, Bloomington's deputy police chief. Officers are encouraged to work out on duty in a gym shared with other city employees, which includes ellipticals, cardio equipment, free weights and weight machines.
"A lot of times, you're spending hours inside a police car, where you heart rate is pretty much at a resting rate, and all of a sudden you see something right out in front of you and you jump out and that's obviously not a healthy switch, going from zero to 60," Hartley said.
Other agencies have tried different strategies to help keep their officers healthy and fit.
In Baltimore, officials last summer launched a boot camp-style fitness pilot program, as part of a larger recruiting push to attract more minority and female candidates to fill the department's depleted ranks. Other cities, like Columbus, Ohio, and Kansas City, offer extra time off as an incentive for officers to stay in shape.
And earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Defense announced an overhaul of its physical requirements for troops, which, among other things, will do away with the "tape test," which determines body fat percentages by taking measurements at the neck, hip and waist, a standard that has been repeatedly challenged in court as being gender biased, experts say.
Ross Sherman, an associate professor of movement science at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, said that more departments are moving away from traditional measures of aerobic fitness like the Cooper test, which measures skills less relevant to police work. At the same time, many have relaxed their fitness requirements, both to attract recruits amid the national officer shortage or out of fear of costly lawsuits, he said.
"I think we should've moved on from the very traditional almost combine-esque fitness test, the pushups, pullups, and bench press," he said.
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 Twitter:@StribJany