New incentives for police to stay in shape
When one thinks of the police, images of strapping young men are often the first things to leap into one’s mind. Gender biases aside, the Portland Police Association is considering offering police officers cash incentives to keep that “strapping young lad” image active in the Bridge City.
While this ideal may seem foreign to some, it has been considered by police forces throughout the country. Police forces in Texas, New York and other states are following the same plan: more cash for more fitness.
A Portland city commissioner is responsible for bringing the plan to our city. Under this plan, officers would undergo a biometric screening consisting of a blood sample, blood pressure reading and a Body Mass Index measurement. In return, officers with passing results would receive a bonus.
Currently, the only fitness test Oregon police officers are required to go through is the one that comes prior to hiring. It would generally be easy for a young, new officer to complete said fitness test, but what about the officers starting to get older or out of shape? An out-of-shape officer is a liability, both to themselves and to their given department.
In our interview with KOIN News, Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman said that so far, 91 percent of Portland Police Bureau members had undergone the screening, given satisfactory results and received the bonus.
Saltzman has since requested that the city council rescind the test as it does not include any actual physical activity.
“The city council may not be the most physically fit group, but we’re not fools either,” said Saltzman
The original fitness test consisted of a timed obstacle and physical-abilities test. Passing would give an officer 1 percent of “top-step officer pay,” or a $739 bonus.
This test was scrapped after police union workers made complaints about having to take the exams off-duty without receiving overtime.
Yvonne Deckard, Portland’s Human Resources manager responsible for negotiating the biometric screening, was quoted in an OregonLive article stating the fitness program was eliminated because the potential cost of paying officers overtime to do the fitness test would have cost the city more money than it was worth.
Deckard said that the city initially thought a smaller percentage (70 percent to be exact) would actually pass the fitness test and obtain the premium. At 70 percent, the city would be spending about $458,000 a year.
And remember: this year, 91 percent of union members passed. The city shelled out approximately $577,000 in bonuses alone.
Mayor Sam Adams, who also serves as police commissioner, said a fitness test is a necessity and that having a Portland police training center would make testing more accessible for union members and cheaper for the city in the long run.
Is ensuring the fitness of our police officers worth the extra costs to tax payers?
In an article published in AM New York, Bo Dietl, a private eye and former New York Police Department detective, said, “If you’ve got a guy who’s overweight, what good is he? If he can’t fight somebody, that’s no good…You’ve got to wrestle with them without having to shoot them.”
The article goes on to state that observers have said police officers who are physically fit are less likely to fire their guns in a chase or hectic situation. More fitness also means less spending in terms of pension and disability costs.
While Portland is no New York, the same idea is applicable. If new physical fitness standards were implemented with a cash reward as an incentive, Portland police officers strive to be fit. They would also perform better in their job and resort to firing their weapons only as a last resort.
And besides, in these times of economic hardship, who wouldn’t want some extra cash as well as physical health?
In an article published in Tualatin Life, Kent W. Barker, Tualatin’s chief of police, stated that “with current Federal laws, labor laws, contracts and other rules, it’s nearly impossible to discipline an employee who is not in shape.
“We thought we could encourage officers to get in shape with incentives. Since we started this incentive program back in 2007, we have had less on-the-job injuries and lost work time than what we had before we started the program,” Barker said.
Clearly the idea of offering cash incentives has multiple positive aspects. Not only does it save cities money that could be spent on expensive work-related injuries due to lack of fitness, it motivates officers to keep a certain level of health.
If a program like this is to succeed, it needs the support and cooperation of the union workers. One of the biggest obstacles is the fact that the unions are so against taking the test without overtime.
Even if no overtime pay is involved, it should give officers a reason to stay in shape because passing said fitness tests will result in a large bonus. Health and cash—what more could they ask for?