Texas police officer suspended because of his weight
If an officer fails the department's physical requirement test, they receive training to get in shape
By Sarah Mervosh
The Dallas Morning News
CARROLLTON, Texas — Cue the overused doughnut jokes.
A Carrollton police officer has been suspended from work for being overweight.
Cory Cook, a 20-year veteran of the department, was put on administrative leave last week for a "fitness for duty" evaluation, a Carrollton police spokeswoman said Tuesday.
He will be paid while the department determines whether he's healthy enough to keep pounding a beat.
For all the stereotypes about cops and their love of sugary breakfasts, it's rare for an officer to be suspended for weight, experts say. It's not unheard of, however. A cop in Nebraska was suspended in 2007 when his supervisors said his weight kept him from performing his duties. The officer was later reinstated.
"It's an unusual thing," said Harvey Hedden, executive director of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. "I'm pretty surprised to hear about it."
While fitness is becoming a larger problem for police departments nationwide, Hedden said agencies typically opt for less serious methods of intervention. He cited one case where an officer could no longer fit in a squad car and was moved to office duty.
Some agencies provide gym memberships to officers or pay them to work out, he said.
There was no word on whether Cook's weight restricted his ability to do his job or whether he was considered morbidly obese, defined as more than 100 pounds over a person's recommended weight or having a BMI, or body mass index, of greater than 40. It's also unclear what steps Carrollton police might have taken with Cook before suspending him.
The department declined to comment in detail on his case, citing privacy laws. Cook, reached by phone Tuesday, also declined to comment.
Pete Schulte, a defense attorney and former McKinney police officer, said being physically fit is part of an officer's job. And when weight becomes a problem, he said, it can pose risks to the public and fellow officers.
"If they get so out of breath [in a foot chase] that they can't draw their gun and fire, that's an issue," Schulte said.
He said Carrollton is among several North Texas departments that conduct annual fitness tests to make sure officers can do physical tasks such as pull a 150-pound body across a road or run a mile under a certain time. If an officer fails, Schulte said, he or she gets training to get in shape.
He said Cook's case represents a balancing act between state law, which empowers police departments to ensure their officers are physically and mentally fit to do the job, and the Americans With Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with certain impairments.
Cook joined the department in July 1995, said Carrollton police spokeswoman Jolene DeVito.
Before that, he worked for three years as a detention officer at the Dallas County Sheriff's Office, according to his LinkedIn page.
So what's next for Cook?
Carrollton police said they're following a fitness for duty process outlined in state law, which puts the ball in Cook's court.
He will have to get evaluated by a doctor, and if the department disagrees with that evaluation, he would see the city's doctor.
If the two evaluations conflict, a panel of three doctors could be appointed to evaluate his fitness.
"If they find him unfit for duty, he can be terminated," Schulte said.
Copyright 2015 The Dallas Morning News