Health and Fitness Programs


Imagine a police department that does absolutely no firearms training. Its officers would not have to demonstrate proficiency with weapons, and the department would have no standards for assessing officer performance in the use of firearms.

Such a situation is, of course, unthinkable. The ability to use firearms proficiently is an indisputable necessity in modern law enforcement. And yet, even on today' s violent streets, the majority of officers never fire a weapon in the line of duty.

Physical abilities, by contrast, are called upon regularly to police work. Endurance, strength, and physical conditioning are often critical factors in determining the outcome of an encounter between officers and lawbreakers. Despite this, serious efforts to address the health and fitness of police officers are generally dismissed as well-intentioned but somewhat impractical. Some departments simply do not regard fitness as a critical issue.

However, there is a growing understanding that the benefits of health/fitness programs for law enforcement agencies are far more tangible and broad-based than weak excuses would indicate. Not only can a well-developed fitness program help to reduce injuries, boost morale, and foster a more effective crime-fighting force, but it can also be a cost-effective component to a department's overall health care policy. The benefits of an effective and fairly administered health/ fitness program for law enforcement agencies should no longer be ignored.


Because of the sheer number of departments and the lack of a universally accepted standard for health/fitness policies, it is difficult to determine the prevalence of serious health promotion programs in American law enforcement agencies. Studies attempting to gauge the status of fitness programs tend to yield confusing results due to classification inconsistencies. For example, does a policy of pre-employment physicals classify a department as having a health promotion program?

A 1988 survey of the largest police department in each State revealed that at least 22 of the responding agencies had relatively in-depth health promotion programs. (1) Still, the results of this survey were somewhat relative, since no parameters were defined for an "in-depth" program.


Once a department's administration decides to develop a health/ fitness program, several steps should be taken to ensure its success. First and perhaps most important, the proposal must be "sold" to two groups: 1) The city council and budget appropriators, and 2) the people who will be directly affected--the officers, and if applicable, civilian personnel.

Budget Considerations

Often, the first tactic in promoting health/fitness programs is to quote the abundance of data showing reduced health care costs and absenteeism and improved productivity and morale. (2) Although these specific goals are very compelling reasons for initiating a program, they are difficult to measure objectively. And while some effort to measure these goals should be made, departments should not rely on attaining them to justify a health/ fitness program.

Instead, it is more reasonable for departments to justify a fitness program by arguing that a compelling interest exists in law enforcement to have officers who are healthy and fit. If this effort saves a department money in health care costs, then all the better. However, departments should not determine the success or failure of health/fitness programs by whether a cost savings results. The ultimate result should be an improved department, with employees who are healthier, personally more secure, and better able to provide effective policing services.

Personnel Considerations

It is unwise to underestimate the negative power of a disgruntled group of officers. For this reason, a significant effort should be made to ensure that a health program gains the approval of the personnel directly affected.

source: Jones, Glenn Robert, The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin

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