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Windham police Officer Dave Comeau does some curls with a dumbell in the exercising room at the police station yesterday.

Hampstead won’t be promoting a patrolman to full-time officer status because he failed the police academy’s physical entrance exam.

Although Patrolman Adam White was able to do the required push-ups, sit-ups and a bench press, he missed the cutoff for a timed 1.5-mile run by about 30 seconds, according to Hampstead police Chief Joseph Beaudoin.

As the nation has turned its focus to an epidemic of out-of-shape citizens, so, too, has law enforcement.

Because White had taken the test once before and had been passed over for the academy because of high blood pressure, White was not accepted into the police academy.

“We all have bad days,” Beaudoin said. “He just had a bad day on the worst day of his life.”

But it’s not just new officers who have to meet fitness standards. In 2001, New Hampshire became the first state to hold police officers to career-long fitness standards. Any officer who graduated from the police academy since then must pass a fitness test every three years.

The goal is to replace the old stereotype of policemen eating doughnuts with a new image, one of physically fit police officers able to perform a multitude of tasks without losing their breath.

Salem Lt. Ron Peddle, who often works the night shift, thinks the fitness standards are a good idea.

“Especially with new guys, that’s probably a big motivator for them,” Peddle said. “Law enforcement, it’s a lifestyle. Twenty to 30 years of shift work is bad for anybody’s health.”

Peddle, like other police officers, said the job makes it tough to focus on fitness. For him, eight years in the Army made exercising a habit — one that stuck.

He lifts light weights, but said cardiovascular exercise is more important to him. He runs often and tries to avoid fast food.

“It’s a dangerous job, and that’s the biggest motivator of all,” Peddle said.

Departments offer incentives

Local departments encourage their officers to stay fit. Some provide discounted gym memberships, others have exercise equipment in the station, and one department offers bonuses for passing the test.

In Derry, only 13 of the approximately 50 officers are required to take the physical fitness test every three years, said Capt. George Feole. But, thanks to contract stipulations, many officers hired before 2001 are eligible for a bonus or stipend if they voluntarily take the fitness re-test and pass, Capt. Vernon Thomas said.

Those incentives have older officers thinking about their health and working to stay fit, Thomas said. Physical fitness has not been a problem among his staff, he said, and no one has failed a re-test.

“Overweight and out of shape are two different things,” Thomas said. “Can they pass the test? That’s the question.”

Other departments echo Thomas about their force’s fitness. And they say officers haven’t had a problem passing the fitness re-test, which includes a 1.5-mile run, sit-ups and push-ups. The police academy entrance exam also includes a bench press.

“Most of the officers keep themselves in physically fit shape,” said Kingston police Chief Donald Briggs. “I have seen all my officers in action and feel that they are physically very capable of doing their jobs. If they were not capable, I would ask them to address whatever issues need to be addressed.”

Fitness can be a lifesaver

For many police officers, fitness is more than part of the job — it’s a way of life.

Hampstead Officer Kathleen Boulter played sports growing up, runs marathons and triathlons, and was a personal trainer before she became a police officer. In fact, her competitive streak and athletic ability may have saved her life.

Last month Boulter, 35, was hit by a car while directing traffic on Route 121A.

“A lot of people said, ‘Thank God you work out and were in shape,’” she said. “I guess it does make a huge difference.”

Boulter suffered bumps and bruised ribs, but was back to work in a week and ran a road race two weeks later.

“It does help to be in shape,” she said. “Sometimes you have to scuffle with somebody and if you can’t take it physically, you’re in big trouble.”

Fitness has a direct effect on a police officer’s ability to do his or her job, said Roger Reynolds, who works for the Texas-based institute that set the fitness standards used in New Hampshire and many other states.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Cooper Institute began collecting data that showed police officers were “fatter and weaker and had less stamina than the general population,” Reynolds said.

The institute focused on developing exercises and fitness standards directly linked to officers’ day-to-day activities.

Reynolds hopes regular testing will change the way police officers think about exercise, improving not only their job performance but their overall health.

“Physical fitness is not an 8-to-5, 11-to-7 shift thing,” said Reynolds, who has worked with thousands of police officers. “It’s more about the life you live than the job you work. Some police officers see the gym and the track as torture chambers.”

Hampstead’s Boulter has simple advice for officers who don’t like to exercise: Get moving.

“There are so many types of exercise out there. Rock climbing, mountain biking, or just hiking on trails, there’s something for everybody,” she said. “Find something fun or a buddy to work out with you; that makes a big difference.”

In 2003, Boulter helped her partner prepare for his fitness test, serving as motivator and taskmaster.

“When he was on the treadmill, I made him go faster,” she said. “I just made sure he could do everything three or four weeks prior to the test. Then there was no anxiety prior to the test because he had already done it.”

Fitness linked to performance

Plaistow Deputy Chief Kathy Jones said her department has not had an officer fail a re-test since 2001, although a few have struggled. To help, the department sent an officer to the Cooper Institute to learn how to motivate and assist other officers.

“If they’re slow in certain areas, we’ll have (that officer) work with them,” Jones said. “The goal is to have them do a little better in the next one (test).”

Regular testing is a way to motivate officers to stay in shape. Officers who fail are put on probation and have up to two years to re-test and pass, said Keith Lohmann, a training specialist with the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council. There are no practical consequences for an officer on that type of probation, he said.

“It just means there is a requirement they need to meet that they haven’t met,” Lohmann said.

The state doesn’t track individual police departments’ fitness policies, Lohmann said. Nor does it track how many officers fail the fitness test.

No local police departments have made semi-annual tests a requirement for all of its officers, but many chiefs say they recognize the importance of having a physically fit force.

“Let’s face it, if I’m out there, I don’t want somebody that can’t do the job working beside me. We cover each other, and I want the person beside me to be physically and mentally fit to do the job,” said Chester Deputy Chief William Burke. “We talk about how the fitness of an officer can be lifesaving, whether it’s yours, or a person you’re trying to help, or indeed the person you’re trying to apprehend. Your fitness level can make the difference between life or death.”



Police fitness standards

Age 18-29%1.5-mile run%Push-ups in one minute%Sit-ups in one minute

Male%13:06 minutes%27%37

Female%15:48 minutes%22%31

Age 30-39%1.5-mile run%Push-ups in one minute%Sit-ups in one minute

Male%13:53 minutes%21%33

Female%16:23 minutes%17%24

Age 40-49%1.5-mile run%Push-ups in one minute%Sit-ups in one minute

Male%14:47 minutes%16%28

Female%16:59 minutes%11%19

Age 50-59%1.5 mile run%Push-ups in one minute%Sit-ups in one minute

Male%15:53 minutes%11%22

Female%18:09 minutes%10%12

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