Chicago's top cop wants force in better shape

By Fran Spielman and Annie Sweeney
The Chicago Sun-Times
Related: Was a Chief out of line for telling his officers to get fit?

CHICAGO — Chicago's new top cop said he is considering a mandated physical fitness test for officers, one that could also take into account body fat, not only how much a cop weighs.

Saying the current system of using cash to encourage cops to get fit doesn't work, Supt. Jody Weis said any requirements probably would be grandfathered in and nothing will likely happen for a year. He also knows he has to work with the union.

But paying cops cash to pass a physical is like paying a child to earn A's on a report card.

"We need to develop a mind-set that taking care of yourself, being fit, being nutritionally sound, being as healthy as you can be is what you need to be a police officer,'' said Weis, who is a body builder and is married to a trainer.

Weis said his first goal is to get his officers to take a "holistic'' approach to their health --good workout habits, good nutrition and understanding that staying fit helps them do their jobs better and stand a better chance at surviving life-threatening injuries.

But he is also looking at creating a mandate like other departments have done, including the Illinois State Police.

"It would be unfair to right now say 'If you don't pass this test, we're gonna have all of these other things happen to you','' Weis said. "But I think it's something we have to build to. The American public expects police officers to be in shape.''

Weis said he also would pay closer attention to body fat content as opposed to weight to judge if an officer is fit.

Chicago Police officers who pass a yearly physical earn $250. Last year, 3,800 of the city's roughly 13,000 cops signed up to take the test; about 2,400 passed and about 100 failed. The rest were no-shows.

Chicago's system contrasts drastically with Illinois State Police, which offers a carrot and a stick, said Master Sgt. Sean Cormier. State cops, who are also in a union, are required to take a yearly exam that includes timed situps, bench pressing, a 1.5-mile run and flexibility tests. Those who pass get an extra personal day and those who don't are required to work with a trainer.

Officers then have 90 days to follow the regime before re-testing.

"They are more likely to stay healthy ... to protect themselves and others," Cormier said.

The Chicago Police union has already floated an idea to double the current incentive and eventually raise it to $850. President Mark Donahue said any mandate Weis has needs to be sent to the union first.

"If that's the superintendent's intent, he should put it in a proposal and deliver it to the negotiators,'' Donahue said.

Copyright 2008 The Chicago Sun-Times

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