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November 01, 2006

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Scott Buhrmaster Topics & Tactics for Law Enforcement
with Scott Buhrmaster

Was a Chief out of line for telling his officers to get fit?

What do PoliceOne Members think?

Recently, Paul Goward, the now former Chief of Winter Haven (FL) PD, felt compelled to voice his feelings about the importance of his officers being physically fit. [Read the news report]

In an interview with PoliceOne.com, Goward explained, “Generally speaking, I believe that given the obligation police officers have to be ready to perform under strenuous, physically demanding circumstances, we have a higher degree of unfit officers than the public—and law enforcement—should tolerate.

"Prior to sending the note in question, I had just read an article in a law enforcement magazine that talked about the on-going public perception of police officers as being overweight and out of shape. That struck me in two ways.

“First, I realized they’re right. Second, I realized that officers who do make an effort to stay in shape are being negatively impacted by those who don’t and that’s not right. I thought to myself, ‘the city provides officers with gym access and fitness programs but they’re not being utilized as much as they should be. Maybe it’s time for a little straight talk.’”

With that, Goward decided to send an e-mail to his troops.

Under the subject line, “Are you a Jelly Belly?” – a term taken from the article that inspired his action—he wrote:

“Take a good look at yourself. If you are unfit, do yourself and everyone else a favor. See a professional about a proper diet and a fitness training program, quit smoking, limit alcohol intake and start thinking self-pride, confidence and respectability. And stop making excuses for delaying what you know you should have been doing years ago.

“We didn’t hire you unfit and we don’t want you working unfit,” he continued. “Don’t mean to offend, this is just straight talk. I owe it to you.”

Goward predicted that maybe a handful of officers wouldn’t be particularly happy with the call to take a cold, hard look at their level of fitness, and he was right, but he certainly didn’t predict this outcome.

“I thought, ‘How can anyone take offense at this?’ The next thing I knew, I was out of a job.” After some officers complained to the city council, Goward was forced to resign.

Beyond the initial series of fitness tests officer candidates are required to pass, Winter Haven PD, like some other agencies, doesn’t have an on-going fitness testing program in place. In essence, officers are required to be fit at the point of hire but after that, it’s anything goes.

“We encourage [officers] to be physically fit,” said Winter Haven’s personnel coordinator, “but we do not require them to do an annual test.

Goward was working on implementing a voluntary, incentive-based fitness program, which included rewards like a paid day off or a salary bonus, before his unexpected departure.

What do you think?

This incident, which has now become national news, surfaces some interesting questions and we’d like to know what PoliceOne members think.

Should officers be required to remain physically fit throughout their careers? Should there be penalties for being out of shape?

Would you feel uncomfortable partnering with an unfit officer? Are you as fit as you should be?

Should agencies mandate physical fitness standards in law enforcement or is that getting too personal?

What do you think? We’d like to know!

E-mail your comments to: Mailbag@policeone.com

Read PoliceOne Members’ responses

About the author

If you have tactical information, compelling incidents, general comments or topics you would like to share, please contact Scott Buhrmaster, Managing Editor for PoliceOne.com and the Director of Training for the PoliceOne Training Network, at: buhrmastergroup@comcast.net







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