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Cops under the gun on fitness; Fitness rules hard for some officers; Davis sheriff's sworn personnel face uniform standard

Nate Carlisle ,
The Salt Lake Tribune

FARMINGTON -- Bob Hunt hoped the fitness requirements at the Davis County Sheriff's Office would go away.

The requirements seemed daunting. At 67 years old and missing part of his right lung due to cancer, Hunt has to meet the same physical standards for deputies one-third his age. That includes running 1 1/2 miles in less than 16 minutes, bench pressing 70 percent of his body weight and, in one minute each, performing 30 sit-ups and 25 push-ups. But since suffering from cancer three years ago, Hunt's exercise has been limited to walking until recently.

"If you put a requirement on there that you have to walk to Salt Lake City and back, I'm your man," Hunt said.

Hunt, who commands Davis County's bomb squad and works in the crime laboratory, is one of a growing number of Utah peace officers whose physical fitness is under investigation.

Since 2000, city police departments across the state have adopted fitness policies for their officers. Many requirements have recently taken effect, or soon will, and cops who can't run, jump or lift as expected can suffer repercussions that range up to termination.

It doesn't appear the mandatory exercise is forcing many cops to hang up their handcuffs. At the St. George Police Department, 87 of 90 officers have met the requirements. For the Logan Police Department, 58 of 60 have passed.

Utah peace officers must begin their careers in shape, meeting fitness standards for cadets at the state's police academy. But while state law requires police officers to take continuing training every year, fitness tests stop when they are issued a badge and gun.

Police forces and their city or county governments say the new fitness tests ensure the cops can provide good service to citizens and fellow officers.

"I would hate to be the guy that had a partner and got in a foot chase and couldn't help him," said Kevin McLeod, chief deputy at the Davis County Sheriff's Office.

There's also a financial benefit from the standards, largely spurred by the Utah Risk Management Mutual Association, an insurance pool for 25 Utah cities. In 1998, the association initiated a study examining the value of police fitness programs and what standards should be set. The following year, association members began their programs. Utah cities that don't belong to the pool have followed suit.

Local governments hope having fit police officers will reduce the number of claims for health insurance, workers' compensation and liability. It's not clear whether any of those savings have occurred yet, said Carl Parker, the association's loss control manager.

"When these claims come in," Parker said, "they don't necessarily allege, 'Your guy was out of shape so he shot my client.' So it's very difficult to attribute which claims result from physical fitness."

The Davis County Sheriff's Office began phasing in a fitness policy five years ago and is believed to be the first sheriff's office in the state to do so. This fall, the office's 160 sworn personnel -- from deputies to jail workers to crime lab staff like Hunt -- were put through a fitness test. Unlike at the police academy, which has varying requirements based on gender and age, everyone at the Davis County Sheriff's Office must meet the same standards.

Twenty-two failed one or more of the requirements. They were placed in an exercise class and will be tested again at the end of three months. Those who fail again will return to the exercise class for another three months and be tested again.

Anyone failing a third time can receive a different set of tests, putting officers through a set of scenarios they might encounter on the job. If the officer fails that test, he or she will be considered unfit for duty, and may seek employment elsewhere in Davis County government or be terminated.

McLeod said he expects two or three people won't try to meet the fitness standards. The Davis County Sheriff's Office has a workout room with weights and treadmills and personnel may exercise while on duty. Those who have trouble passing the test are provided a personal trainer.

"It's just not that difficult," McLeod said of the requirements. "It requires them to get in some shape, but it's not difficult."

Hunt finished his run 3 minutes and 5 seconds too slow and was five push-ups and nine sit-ups short during the first test. He's in the three-month exercise class and expects to meet all the requirements on the next test.

Fitness standards are a good thing, Hunt said. "Officers need to be fit."

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