Fla. prison chief wants fitter officers
By BRENT KALLESTAD
Corrections Secretary Jim McDonough thinks he might have found a new way to trim fat in government.
The head of Florida's prison system wants the more than 19,000 certified officers in his agency to get into shape by 2009, when they'll be asked to prove they're fit in order to keep their jobs.
"We have a number of occasions where an officer either on the job or in training, to prepare for the mission, has had a hard time," McDonough, a former Army infantry colonel, said Thursday. "It's not just a question of responding to physical force coming back to you, it's the physical exertion itself."
Union officials representing corrections officers are crying foul, saying any new requirements need to be worked out at the bargaining table.
"We have people who have been with the department for 25 years, 20 years who have excellent evaluations and all of a sudden, now they implement this physical fitness program," said Al Shopp, spokesman for the Florida Police Benevolent Association. "They're no longer a valued employee because they can't do, say five sit-ups or 10 pushups or walk a mile?"
In the department's draft proposal, men over 50 would have to walk or run a mile and a half in 17 minutes, do 19 push-ups in two minutes and 27 sit-ups in two minutes. Requirements are tougher for younger officers — a 19-year-old would have to run a mile and a half in 12:45 — and women would have less stringent benchmarks than their male colleagues of the same age.
Officers who fail the test would have six months in a remedial program to reach the minimum goals before being moved to another, less strenuous job in the department if one is available. Some could be required to relocate, or could even lose their jobs.
McDonough aims to have the new rules in place by July. The officers' union can contest the requirements with the state division of administrative hearings, and could go to court after that to try to stop them.
Gov. Charlie Crist, who often swims 20 laps to start his workdays, supports the idea.
"As you may know, I advocated during the course of the campaign that we reinstitute physical education in our school system," Crist, 50, said Thursday. "So being in shape's a pretty good idea, especially in that line of work."
Associated Press reporter Dave Heller contributed to this