Friday, July 29, 2011

Does fitness matter for police?

HARBESON: Is this a stronger union?

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Note to readers: I’m about to discuss the Jeffersonville Police Union’s contract battle with the city concerning minimum physical standard requirements. I know I’m going to be tempted to mention doughnuts but I want to meet a higher standard for this job. That’s why I’ve imposed the following physical requirement: When I’m tempted to mention doughnuts, I’ll stop writing and run laps around my yard until the feeling goes away.

Why are Jeffersonville police officers so uptight about minimum physical standard requirements in their union contract? Prior to following this controversy, I thought that meeting physical standards on a periodic basis was just a logical part of a police officer’s job.

As I understand the main disagreement, the police union does not want failure to meet these minimum physical standards to be grounds for termination. They think this requirement is punitive and they apparently don’t believe punitive measures work well to motivate and direct human behavior, or at least police officer behavior. They obviously have no problem with punitive measures as an effective means of controlling and directing behavior for the rest of society.

At one point in the negotiations, it was agreed that police officers would not immediately be let go if they failed to meet the minimum physical requirements. Instead, union members would be given three chances to pass and meet the age-graded standards.

In other words, police officers were going to be held to a three strikes and you’re out standard and they didn’t like that at all.

So even though various changes have been proposed about meeting fitness standards, the union has remained firm in its position and it wants any physical standard requirement to be incentive-based. Union members would like a specific reward, such as a monetary bonus, for meeting the minimum standards.

But the purpose of incentives is to spur action and motivate someone to perform at a level significantly above and beyond minimum standards; not for maintaining the basic minimum for the job.

It seems so odd to me that the police union members would balk at demonstrating a minimum standard of physical ability. Where is the sense of pride in themselves and respect for the community that pays their salaries?

I know police officers don’t necessarily think this way because they are used to dealing with those who pay them from a monopoly-based standpoint. I can imagine how different this all might be if they actually had to persuade people to purchase their services in the voluntary market.

Think about it. Instead of being coerced to fund city police, what if you had the freedom to choose from a variety of protection services? (Assuming you wanted to hire one at all.)

Do you think minimum physical standards would be on your list of criteria to consider as you made your decision?

Even when we only consider activities where police officers actually assist peaceful citizens who may be in need, and ignore possible dealings with dangerous (and fit) criminals, it still seems wise to make sure that police maintain minimum physical condition. No one wants to see police officers become part of the story because they let themselves go so much that they were physically incapable of performing the job.

Rather than fighting minimum physical fitness standards as a contractual job requirement, what if the police officers had spent their time and energy for the past two years working to ensure that they and their fellow union members reached their minimum age-graded physical standards? Would any of them really need to worry about holding on to their jobs? If so, then I guess that’s all anyone needs to know.

Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson ran around her yard about 500 times while composing this column. Which means she now deserves a doughnut.


  1. Obviously I think we would all be safer if cops were fat and sluggish. Maybe with fingers too fat to fit inside trigger guards and too weak to pull a trigger. I'm happy when I see a bunch of the tax parasites sitting in a donut shop where their harm will be minimized and they are not out extorting money or shooting grandma.

  2. Kent, you sure have a way of putting things into context. I like it. :)