Physical Fitness Plays a Role in Use of Force

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Physical Fitness Plays a Role in Use of Force

I recently heard a story told by an officer in regards to a foot pursuit he had been involved in. The chase eventually resulted in a response to resistance on the part of the suspect.

The perpetrator in this case had jumped a six-foot fence in an attempt to elude the pursuing officers. The officer, who was in good physical condition, was able to clear the fence right behind the suspect. The officer began fighting with the suspect and called for assisting officers to help with the larger offender. The first backup officer arrived on scene, but was standing on the other side of the fence looking for a gate. Consequently, he later told the primary officer that he was not able to clear the fence in order to assist, and jokingly said he couldn’t find the gate. The primary officer was fortunate that other capable officers arrived and hopped the fence. As a result they were able to assist with the arrest.

This brings a serious question of liability to mind for agencies that don’t maintain a physical fitness program for their officers. In my 21 years of law enforcement, I also heard of officers speaking about being too fat to fight. They obviously wouldn’t normally use the word “fat,” but would indicate through their conversation that they were not in the best condition to be in a struggle. These officers would sometimes reference using force, even deadly force, earlier in the struggle because of lacking physical fitness.

In the first story above the officer could have been seriously injured or killed due to the backup officer not being able to clear a fence and assist in the fight. The officer’s family would most likely never hear of the secondary officer’s failure to clear a fence if the officer had been killed.

We in law enforcement must move towards doing a better job in our physical fitness requirements for entry level and incumbent officers. The reality is that we occasionally run and fight with criminals on the street, and it is not unreasonable for an agency to expect a standard that meets that task. We’ve been fortunate to have so many new tools available that have reduced the risks of officers being injured or killed. But physical testing for incumbent officers is still neglected at most agencies.

I’ve noticed the use of the row machine, which can help measure the VO2 max capabilities in men and women applicants. This is essentially the difference between the amount of oxygen that a person inspires and the amount of oxygen that they expire. The factor of age causes the VO2 to decline about 1% per year after the age of 25. At the age of 55 the average person has a VO2 that is approximately 27% less than that of a 20 year old.

Although, there is a negative correlation between that and age, the available evidence indicates that the influence of a person’s fitness level on VO2 max is stronger than the influence of their age. Men have roughly 10% to 25% higher VO2 max capabilities than women, mainly due to size differences in contracting muscles.

Most of us fail to institute programs within an agency that maintain and test physical fitness. As a result, we are placing officers and the public at greater risk of danger, because an officer may not have enough physical stamina to assist in a fight or to protect a victim of an assault.

We’ve found most of those administrations without a continual physical standard fear being involved in a civil case by the officers if they attempt to institute a standard. Yet most don’t realize the liability already exists and is just waiting to be brought forward in the right circumstance.

There may be a time where an officer’s level of physical fitness could be called into question and measured, where the use of deadly force occurred on an unarmed subject. The attorney could attempt to show a lack of physical fitness by the officer played, which ultimately became a major role in the death of his client. Consequently, this conclusion would expose the employing agency to civil liability based upon a lack of physical fitness standards during a lawsuit.

We should all work toward preparing our minds and bodies for the dangers we face in law enforcement, and look forward to physical standards that help keep us safe on the streets.

Ray Beshirs, Blue Shield Tactical Systems LLC

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